We join today in mourning for the 47 who perished and in thanks for the 11 who survived. They all were, in the words of a poet, the men behind the guns. They came from Hidalgo, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; Tampa, Florida; Costa Mesa, California. They came to the Navy as strangers, served the Navy as shipmates and friends, and left the Navy as brothers in eternity. In the finest Navy tradition, they served proudly on a great battleship, U.S.S. Iowa.
This dreadnought, built long before these sailors were born, braved the wartime waters of the Atlantic to take President Roosevelt to meet Winston Churchill at Casablanca and anchored in Tokyo Harbor on the day that World War II ended. The Iowa earned 11 battle stars in two wars. October of '44, off the coast of the Philippines -- I can still remember it -- for those of us serving in carriers and Halsey's Third Fleet, having Iowa nearby really built our confidence. And I was proud to be a part of the recommissioning ceremony in 1984. And now fate has written a sorrowful chapter in this history of this great ship.
Let me say to the crew of Iowa: I understand your great grief. I promise you today we will find out why, the circumstances of the tragedy. But in a larger sense, there will never be answers to the questions that haunt us. We will not -- cannot, as long as we live -- know why God has called them home. But one thing we can be sure -- this world is a more peaceful place because of the U.S.S. Iowa. The Iowa was recommissioned and her crew trained to preserve the peace. So, never forget that your friends died for the cause of peace and freedom.
To the Navy community, remember that you have the admiration of America for sharing the burden of grief as a family, especially the Navy wives, who suffer most the hardships of separation. You've always been strong for the sake of love. You must be heroically strong now, but you will find that love endures. It endures in the lingering memory of time together, in the embrace of a friend, in the bright, questioning eyes of a child.
And as for the children of the lost, throughout your lives you must never forget, your father was America's pride. Your mothers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles are entrusted with the memory of this day. In the years to come, they must pass along to you the legacy of the men behind the guns. And to all who mourn a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, I can only offer you the gratitude of a nation -- for your loved one served his country with distinction and honor. I hope that the sympathy and appreciation of all the American people provide some comfort. The true comfort comes from prayer and faith.
And your men are under a different command now, one that knows no rank, only love, knows no danger, only peace. May God bless them all.
Note: The President spoke at 9:23 a.m. in Hangar LP - 2 at the Norfolk Naval Air Station. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Chicago, IL.