The President. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. And may I first—
Audience members. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
The President. You're darn right.
Audience. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
The President. U.S.A.! Thank you, Governor Engler, Michelle; and Congressman Paul Henry and Karen; our mayor who we just heard from, Mayor Helmholdt. And thank you all, all of you, for making Barbara and me feel so at home on this marvelous Fourth of July parade in Grand Rapids. It has been sensational. Thank you.
You know, this is one manifestation of the Fourth, and it's very special because of the men and women who served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and were ready to go. But I think when we hear the words "Fourth of July," we think of family, family at reunions, family at parades like we've just seen, and our American family, united in pride, united in patriotism, and the joy, the sheer joy of living in a great and prosperous land. We are very lucky to call America our home. And I think all those who served in Desert Storm helped us understand important things about ourselves and our country because I think we all realized that we belong to a great family, a fortunate family. As Americans, we share more than a magnificent land. We share values. We share commitments. We share experiences, beliefs, and challenges.
Even before the troops returned home, it was the Fourth of July in America again. Every one of us, every one of us feels proud to say: I am an American, and I love my country. And let's not be embarrassed to say so.
A couple of months ago I asked every town to make this Fourth of July a day of special celebration for our troops. We are here, as the Governor said, to honor our troops and the people who have supported them through long nights and tense days. And also, we're here to thank the families and the neighbors and the friends. To every American who wore a yellow ribbon, wrote a letter, or baked a cookie, or said a prayer; to every American who linked hands and hearts in hopes of helping the men and women who defended freedom overseas, America says thank you to each and every one of you. You are an integral part of all of this.
I saw a sign on the parade, something saying, "War is not great." Of course, it's not great. We're not here to glorify war. Tragically, people sometimes must, though, shed blood to defend simple decency and justice. But we must never feel bashful about supporting the values that bind us or the commitment to freedom that makes America so very special, a land of dreams, a land revered and now respected by the rest of the entire world. And that's what it's all about.
And look, loved ones did lose ones close to them. And victory does provide no comfort for war's victims. But today we can offer some solace to those whose loved ones fell in defense of principle. We can tell them: We want to thank your sons and daughters. We will never forget our fighting men and women of this war or of all our wars, World War I, World War II, Korea, those who fought in Grenada, Panama, and the Gulf. And I take special pride today in seeing that in some wonderful and perhaps unseen way, what happened in Desert Storm , what you guys did, what happened there brought home long-overdue recognition and honor to those who served us in Vietnam.
So, I think today we celebrate the American character. Just look into the face of any soldier who dug in the desert sands or any sailor who stood watch on the dark, distant waters of the Gulf, the airmen—look into these faces and you'll se the American character. You'll understand the principles upon which this Nation was founded are no more abstract than a heartbeat. They form the flesh and blood, the heart and soul of our nation.
I see the American character right here in Grand Rapids. You helped each other through Desert Storm. Your war experience summarized, in personal and moving ways, this Nation's war experience.
From the beginning, you felt the war up close. Creston High grad Lieutenant Steven Harper was among the first, the first pilots in action over Iraq. The war hit home even more closely when your reservists left for the Gulf, citizen-soldiers from groups like the 180th Army National Guard from Grand Rapids and Greenville's 1073d ANG and your reservists from the 207th Evacuation Hospital. They helped care for those kids who were wounded in the Scud missile attacks. And I understand that in today's parade are families representing your other Reserve unit, Company A, 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines, which is still deployed overseas. Good, strong, decent men and women, all of them. They make us proud to be Americans. And God bless each and every one of them.
You know, some don't know this, but even the high-tech story of this war unfolded here. Every time we saw a helicopter or jet fighter or M-1 tank, or saw a tape of a Tomahawk cruise missile or laser-guided bomb, we saw components produced by hard work right here in the Grand Rapids area.
And yes, and more somberly, the war inflicted grief here, too. The Edwards family, Gayle, Bennett, Spencer, Adriane, we shared your pain when Jack became the first Gulf war casualty buried at Arlington. The entire Nation poured out condolences in letters addressed simply—they came in this way: "Gayle Edwards, Grand Rapids." What a tribute to a courageous family.
And so, for Barbara and me, to walk these streets is to feel the pulse of America. A couple of months ago, thousands of you rallied at Veterans Memorial Park in a sea of red, white, and blue, and yes, yellow , yellow ribbons that joined the Nation's hearts and really, for those of you that were overseas, were unifying the American family. The yellow of the ribbons worn by the kids from Lee High and Middle Schools. The yellow of the lapel pins that your policemen made for this county's officers. The spirit of Grand Rapids is and was the spirit of America.
So in that spirit, the spirit of brotherhood devoid of all arrogance and gloating, the spirit of compassion and pride, let's celebrate this Independence Day. Let's rejoice in the gift of every day being able to live life and pursue happiness in our freedom's first and finest home.
The troops of Desert Storm not only rescued a nation abroad, they transformed a Nation at home. Now let's use our strength and our credibility to take on challenges here at home. We can make our schools the best in the entire world, and we will. We can restore order to our streets, and we will. And we can build a society, as the Governor said, in which people who want to work will have opportunities, in which people who seek to build a just society will conquer the divisive forces of prejudice. And we will build that society. We owe it to the generation to come.
If we didn't know it before Desert Storm, we know now: Nothing can stop us. So, let's all of us—you and me, your family, our family—let's make this America the best that it can possibly be.
Listen to the American spirit expressed in a letter to me from a Michigan teacher, Martha Williams. Here's what she wrote: "I try to teach my young people that freedom isn't free, that its price is dedication to an ideal, and sometimes its price is sacrifice. My classroom theme is 'answering the call'—in civilian life as well as military—in everyday contributions as well as heroic, notable efforts."
Well, you know something? Martha's right. The American spirit of service, service to each other and to good and bright ideals, made our Nation great. It will keep our Nation great. And if I take away anything else, it's the feeling that that spirit thrives right here in Grand Rapids. You can see it. You can feel it. You can be proud of it. I know I am.
I am very proud, and I know I speak confidently for Barbara, which I do not always do—[laughter]—when I tell you that we are very proud, indeed, to share this special day.
And now, may we say thank you, God bless you all, and God bless this freest, fairest, greatest country on the face of the Earth, the United States of America. Thank you all. Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke at 5:41 p.m. on the parade route in front of the City Council Building. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. John Engler of Michigan and his wife, Michelle, and Congressman Paul B. Henry and his wife, Karen. Following his remarks, the President and Mrs. Bush returned to Washington, DC. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.