Thank you all for that great welcome. What a pleasure to be here. Thank you all. May I say at the opening, Governor, one, thanks for that—please be seated here—not you guys—[laughter]—but may I say at the beginning of these remarks that Barbara and I are the ones that feel honored. We're the ones that feel welcome. We're the ones that feel touched on this very special day. And you can sense here the heartbeat not just of Missouri but the heartbeat of the entire United States of America. So, thank you for what you're doing on this Independence Day.
It is great to be with your Governor and his wife, Janet. Of course, to our great Senators, Senator Danforth, a man of commitment, freedom, and equality; Senator Bond, the same, who was also Governor of this State. Of course, we've got Congressman Mel Hancock with us, who's doing a superb job for his country in the House of Representatives. And State representative Tommy McDonnell I met, the only guy I know that can still fit into his uniform, even though he served long ago. [Laughter] Mayor Plunkett, thank you, sir, and your wife, Kay, for your hospitality from the minute we climbed out of that gigantic limo over there. We've been right back to earth and feeling at home. Thank you, sir.
And to the commissioner that I met, Mr. Rost, and Leon Atkinson, delighted. I was glad to see marching in the parade several people I admire: Bill Webster, the attorney general; Wendell Bailey, who modestly turned to the cameras and turned his back on those of us on the stage there, but we understand that. [Laughter] You see, I served with Wendell, and I know him, and I respect him. And then, of course, your own son, Roy Blunt, the secretary of state. Great to see him out there with his dad and everybody else.
And first, may I say on this special Fourth of July, where events like this, maybe not quite as good, are taking place all across this country, my special salute to those who have served their country in uniform now and in days gone by, with particular emphasis on those men and women who served with such distinction in Desert Storm. What a job they did for our Nation.
Now, they tell me that the mayor, in addition to being mayor, is the fire chief around here. The story goes that someone asked Mayor Plunkett if his house were burning down and he could take one thing out with him, what would it be? He answered, "The fire, of course." I guess that explains why you've reelected him many times to mayor. [Laughter]
Now, I couldn't help but look at the field of flags, and I hope everybody will look around and see them. And they don't just fly on the Fourth of July here in Marshfield; they fly every day of the year, I'm told. And I am very proud, once again, very proud to be here to see them.
I understand that Marshfield has a long history of Fourth of July parades. Think back to the year 1850 and Marshfield's Fourth of July celebration that day, foot races, fireworks, band concerts, ball games. And back in Washington, that was the fateful day that Zachary Taylor gobbled down those cherries with buttermilk. [Laughter] It's a little-known fact, not disproven by when they dug the poor guy up the other day and put him back—[laughter]—that his last words were, "Please pass the broccoli." [Laughter]
It is a thrill for Barbara and me to be celebrating the glorious Fourth here in the Show-Me State. When we heard that we had a chance to come here and join you for one of the oldest Fourth of July celebrations in Missouri, we couldn't pass it up. Some people have called this "the best little town on Earth," and I sure know why. Thank you again for the hospitality.
We live in Washington in the people's house, this magnificent White House. But when we were coming in we couldn't help but reminisce on the Fourths of July we spent in relatively small towns: Odessa, Texas, and Midland, Texas; the ball games in our town of Connecticut and, of course, in Kennebunkport, Maine, a town about the size of this one. Seeing the kids on the bikes here as we came into that parade reminded us all of one thing, the importance of family, the importance of friends.
Times like this bring to mind President Eisenhower's thankfulness for "the rare and priceless privilege of growing up in a small town." These towns really do, as the Governor said, cultivate the kind of values that carried this country for over 200 years, ones like liberty and loyalty and ingenuity and independence. And through it all—you could catch this in the parade, the spirit of the people that greeted us—through it all, faith in God. We are "one nation under God," and we'll never forget it.
And so, I would say to my fellow Americans not with us today, you can find the American character right here in this square, on display, and every day in Marshfield, Missouri.
And I saw a sign back here about another man who is well-known to Missouri. I would also say, then, that you can find that same character in self-made Americans like our nominee to the Court, Judge Clarence Thomas, a man especially well-known to your great Senator, Senator Danforth, and to Governor Ashcroft and also to Kit. Judge Thomas says that when he was growing up—and here were his exact words—God, school, discipline, hard work, and right from wrong were of the highest priority.
You know, he spent a lot of his life in Missouri, first going to school here, then working as an assistant attorney general, as counsel to the Monsanto Company, and later as an aide to your Senator, Senator Danforth, before he went on to a distinguished career as a jurist.
So, let me just simply say, in response to the sign, in response to the feelings of many people in this great State, Clarence Thomas is a man of character and impeccable credentials, a model for all Americans. You see, he will be a great Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.
And yes, it is the Fourth of July. And today hundreds of relatives are in town, your mayor pointing out various manifestations of this as the parade went by; high school classmates back for reunions, old friends coming from other States to visit family here. Take a look at some of Marshfields's homegrown heroes: The devoted nurses at Webco Manor where we saw going by there a minute ago, what a job they do. The fearless firefighters, all volunteers like your own mayor, right here. The police men and women, some of them volunteers, too, on the beat day in and out. And certainly, thank God for the dedicated teachers here at Marshfield's schools and the surrounding schools.
But today the town, and I can tell you as President of the United States, the whole Nation, gathers to honor yet another group of heroes, and again, I am talking about the brave service men and women of Operation Desert Storm. While standing strong for American values, they liberated a nation abroad, a tiny nation halfway around the world, and transformed a Nation at home. You know, as Sergeant Richard Mann—I don't know if he is here today; with all of these people I'm not sure we would see him, but he put it this way, one known to many here: "I think God took a whole generation of Americans out in the desert and showed them a miracle." Well, I think Sergeant Mann was right, but the real miracle took place not in the sands of Kuwait; ;it unfolded in the American heart.
These young men and women went to the desert and brought honor to our Nation, just as all veterans have done before them. There's something else wonderful—I hope you feel it in your community, but I sure feel it as I travel around this country—there's something else wonderful that's happened. Desert Storm has at last brought the recognition and honor to our sons and daughters who served in Vietnam. We finally have had a chance to tell them thank you, and we're proud of them And welcome home. A little late, but welcome home.
Do, don't let them tell you there's anything wrong with our country. Together, we now stand ready for the next step in the American experience. Together, we're facing just over the horizon the 21st century. And we are ready, for we are a Nation of families and communities just like Marshfield. We're a decent people, a good people. We're a Nation of parents and brothers and sisters and neighbors. And we know that our future lies right in the hands of kids like there, many of whom we saw go down this parade route, whether it's the outstanding teamwork of the Southwest Missouri Bears or the Lady Jays basketball team or Marshfield High, or your renowned high school band raising money to go to England and play for the Queen.
And you see, like you, Barbara and I believe in them, through all their childhood dreams and sometimes wild ideas. I'm reminded of a story of Mark Twain—true story—a man who had a weakness for new inventions. Over the years he lost half a million dollars investing in various contraptions. Finally, he decided that he'd been gullible too often, and he resolved never to humor an inventor again. One day a gangly young man approached Twain. He was carrying a boxy-looking device. And Twain listened politely to the young man's pleas for help. He said, "Look, I'm just not interested." Well, looking dejected, the would-be inventor shuffled away. And twain, perhaps feeling a pang of pity, cried out, ""What did you say your name was again?" "Bell," was the reply, "Alexander Graham Bell." [Laughter]
Well, I expect that Mark Twain would be the first to say thank heavens someone else took a chance on the young man named Alexander Graham Bell. Thank heavens, that is unless you have a teenager or a teenaged grandson who won't leave his invention alone.
But Bell saw an opportunity to make life better, and he seized it. Right here in Marshfield, you know what it takes to solve problems. And you're willing to take a chance. You know who you are: the volunteers who run your Head Start—you don't have a movie house here, maybe, but you've got a Head Start program, and I saw those little kids that you've given a chance walking by out here just a minute ago. You've got people who did it themselves, creating child care centers, Temple Baptist and the Methodist Church, the parents and teachers who challenge your children's imaginations and stretch their minds.
Barbara and I have come here today because it's impossible not to feel at home in America's heart. By your example, your faith, and your hard work, you are leading us; you may not put it in that perspective, but you are leading us into the next American century. By your hospitality, you made Barbara and me feel very much at home.
Thank you so very much for having us here today. We feel truly blessed, and may God bless each and every one of you. Have a happy Fourth, and may God bless the greatest and freest country on the face of the earth, the United States of America. Thank you all very much.
Note: The President spoke at 11:32 a.m. on the Webster County Courthouse lawn. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri; Senator Christopher S. (Kit) Bond; county commissioners Don Rost and Leon Atkinson; William L. Webster, State attorney general; Wendell Bailey, State treasurer; and Roy Blunt, Missouri secretary of state. Following his remarks, the President and Mrs. Bush traveled to Grand Rapids, MI. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.