Public Papers

Remarks on Signing the Proclamation Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of World War II


May I salute Secretary Card and General Powell; the Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Principi; the Deputy Secretary of Defense with us, Don Atwood; Secretary Larry Garrett; Secretary Rice; and Michael Stone of the Army; General Mundy, who's right over here; and then the Members of Congress who are with us today. I believe Senator Cranston was going to be here. Here he is, right over here; see you, Alan. And of course, Congressmen Montgomery, Stump, Myers, and who am I missing -- Senator, sorry. We have a distinguished group here to salute the occasion. And also Don Wilson is with us, the Archivist, and Albert McCluskey, a veteran of the Battle of Midway, other veterans here today, and members of civic and veterans service organizations, and also some other members of the Joint Chiefs, I see. May I salute General Kicklighter, the Executive Director, and members of the Department of Defense's World War II Commemoration Committee.

Welcome, all, to the White House and to this special observance of the 50th anniversary of an event which linked Americans' hearts and minds, the monumental struggle known as the Second World War. Overnight, World War II literally transformed America from a people at peace to a nation at war that would define the course of history for the rest of this century.

The attack on Pearl Harbor forced America to abandon isolationism and take up the mantle of leadership. World War II was fought for American soil and sovereignty. It was also fought to defend people who, hating war, sought only peace, people everywhere who yearn for freedom, then and now.

The year 1942 was crucial to our history. Americans came together. Each citizen sought ways to do his or her part. And factories designed to build the tools of peace produced the tools of war: ships, planes, tanks, ammunition, all crucial to the Allied effort. It wasn't easy, but we did it. We did it fast. We did the hard work of freedom.

I was 17 on December 7, 1941, and like so many here, not so many in this room but like some -- [laughter] -- enlisted on my 18th birthday as a Seaman Second Class. I do remember vividly the news from the early days, how it was grim. Guam was overrun, and the reports from the Pacific were rather scary; Bataan and Corregidor fell. Yet the Battle of the Coral Sea foiled Japanese plans to invade Port Moresby and New Guinea. And 50 years ago this week our forces began what may have been the greatest naval battle of all time. Midway turned the tide of World War II. And the inevitable Allied victory, you could feel it. It began to take shape.

Winston Churchill once said of World War II, ``There never was a war in all history easier to prevent.'' Today let us recall what the lion cried as a voice in the wilderness: ``No one ever walks away from appeasing an aggressor. He only crawls.''

Weakening our defenses during a time of peace is an open invitation to those with the potential to wage war. And as President, as long as I'm President, the military's commitment to defending freedom will be matched by our commitment to defending the military. Some say our victory in the cold war allows us to pull back to our own water's edge. And I say, just as America's vigilance helped us win that war, so a strong America can now help win the peace.

We seek a world where differences are solved peacefully, where the force of law really outlasts the use of force. Sacrifices made heroically 50 years ago have helped bring about a new and better world. And it's a world I thought of last December where, on the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Barbara and I looked at the sunken hull of the Arizona out there, the U.S.S. Arizona, tomb to more than a thousand great heroes, the greatest that any nation has ever known. There I thought of the wife whose best friend was her husband and the little boy whose brother, his idol, once vowed to take him fishing after the fighting stopped. I thought of the father whose son or daughter would now know him as a martyr but never as a dad. And I resolved once again we must never, ever let America's defenses down.

The men who died there in World War II would today, I am convinced, and I think I said it out there, be very, very proud of America: proud of what we have become as a Nation because of their service and sacrifice, proud of how their fate and faith still stir and shape us. So we honor them, and we remember them so that future generations will say of us what we do also: God bless this wondrous land, the United States of America.

World War II was a fight that we did not seek, against enemies that we didn't choose, for a cause that is first among all: the right of people everywhere to be free.

In that spirit, then, it is my honor to once again welcome all of you to the White House and to sign the proclamation designating the National Observance of the 50th Anniversary of World War II. And thank you all for coming.

[At this point, the President signed the proclamation.]

Well, the deed is done. Thank you all very much for being with us.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. The proclamation is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.