Public Papers

Remarks to the American Legion in Phoenix, Arizona


May I thank our great Senator John McCain for that introduction and single out our Governor, Fife Symington. Greetings to all the commanders on the dais, Tony Valenzuela, Don Silva, Don Gentry. Thanks to our master of ceremonies, Joe Abodeely. And it's great, of course, to see Everett Alvarez here. And I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Bob Stump, the Congressman from Arizona, the ranking Republican on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He has worked hard up on Capitol Hill for the veterans of this country. I'm very sorry he couldn't be with us today, but I have great respect for his work.

It's not normal that I'm standing up here with three -- maybe you're used to it in this great State of Arizona -- but three winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor standing here. It really says something. I salute all of them.

And I'd like to think in some cross-sectional way that people out here in this audience and standing behind me represent, at least for today, more than 26 million veterans. It's great to be back here. An old saying goes, ``Save the best for last.'' Well, today we're saving the best for first: The first campaign coalition to be announced for our campaign, Barry Goldwater, its honorary chairman, John McCain and Everett Alvarez, its national chairmen, and that is the Bush-Quayle '92 National Veterans Coalition. They're going to be good and strong, and I'm glad to have their support.

Now, I hope you know why I insisted the veterans be first to be unveiled. You know how service has preserved the values that make and keep us strong. John touched on that in that wonderfully generous introduction. You know how veterans have given of themselves and often of their lives in places whose names we all know, from the Argonne, Normandy, Da Nang, and of course, most recently, in the Persian Gulf. Think of our kids and our grandkids. They have inherited your bequest of faith in the country, in family, in democracy, in God. They can never repay the veterans, all of you, for what you've done for freedom.

From the time the torch of liberty was first lit in America, veterans have shed their blood to make sure that it would never go out. And that's what this campaign must be about, what we've got to fight for, enlist our hearts and minds for: to ensure people choice for the schools, for example; for society, pluralism; for God's children, the freedom to go about their lives, their daily lives, free of fear.

Freedom can let us vote as we want and pray as we choose. Freedom can ensure the legacies for our kids of family, peace, and jobs. Above all, freedom can secure what we fought for, Guadalcanal or Inchon or Hue City or Kuwait City: a world where liberty's tide is coming in. It's running in, just as tyranny's tide is running out.

I renew my pledge today in this opening to do all that's humanly possible to account for our comrades that are missing from the past wars. As long as I am President we will never forget those POW's and MIA's.

Another pledge: As we move to a post-cold-war defense force, we cannot forget to take care of our military and civilian men and women who worked and fought so hard to ensure that freedom and democracy would prevail. For them, we will continue to work together to make sure that American veterans receive quality health care that is second to none.

Now, there is a benefit to the end of the cold war, and that is that there will be substantial defense savings made possible in this new environment. However, it is my conviction that this transition must be managed in a rational manner. First, we've got to achieve an orderly reduction in our forces. We're talking about 25 percent over the next 5 years. That is substantial.

But as John McCain can tell you, there are people in the Congress that want to take everything out of defense and out of the national security and shift it over to some mandated program from Washington. Some have called for far deeper cuts than we have, and I reject this approach. As I told the graduating midshipmen down in Annapolis yesterday, never in the history of man has the world been a benign place. There is no substitute for America's strength, and no substitute for our sense of purpose. I am not going to let the Congress gut the muscle of our defense.

Next, Secretary Cheney and I are mindful of our obligation to treat defense and uniform employees and their communities fairly. Our plan already includes spending more than .1 billion to address defense transition over the next 2 years. And today I'm proposing a number of additional programs, including new GI bill benefits and an expansion of job training, employment, and other educational opportunities. We're going to dedicate more than one billion additional dollars through 1996 on these vital defense transition activities. Whether they're working as teachers in an elementary school or as environmental engineers, I am committed to ensuring that the vast talents of these former defense personnel can be put to productive use in private life.

With us today are talented and capable men and women who believe in this new world of freedom. No one needs to tell them about the inhumanity of war. Instead, they know that only a strong America can preserve the humanity of peace. I am proud of these men and proud that they have agreed to help me. And I thank you for your support. I hope to be worthy of your prayers.

Thirty years ago, Douglas MacArthur put it well. Returning to the plain up at West Point, he gave a speech to the cadets. ``The soldier,'' he told them, ``above all other people, prays for peace, for he must bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.''

You've all been soldiers in the crusade of freedom, and this year I ask you to reenlist and help keep America what Lincoln called ``the last best hope of Earth.'' For 200 years our veterans have fought for what is right and what is good, and I ask you to help me defend those values. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I am very happy that the young kids now go to sleep every night without the fear, that constant fear of nuclear war that the generations before them had. I think that's a significant and a major accomplishment. And Barbara and I have -- I was going to say 10 -- I think it's 12 grandchildren.

I take great pride in that fact, that in some way perhaps my Presidency was a part of all of that. But that is there. Now we've got to keep this movement towards freedom and towards peace around the world going forward. We've got to do it. With your help, I'm confident we can do it for the next 4 years.

Many, many thanks to all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 4:55 p.m. at the American Legion Luke Greenway Post. In his remarks, he referred to Arizona State commanders Tony Valenzuela, American Legion, Don Silva, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Don Gentry, Disabled American Veterans.