V-Day Ceremony Address at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial
delivered 11 November 1988, Washington D.C.
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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
Before I begin, let me
take a moment to congratulate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and the
other distinguished guests without whom the construction and operation
of this memorial would not have been possible. Let me also say that
We're gathered today, just as we have gathered before, to remember those who served, those who fought, and those who -- those still missing, and those who gave their last full measure of devotion for our country. We're gathered at a monument on which the names of our fallen friends and loved ones are engraved, and with crosses instead of diamonds beside them, the names of those whose fate we do not yet know. One of those who fell wrote, shortly before his death, these words: "Take what they have left and what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own. And take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind."
Day, as we do every year, we take that moment to embrace the gentle
I'm not speaking provocatively here. Unlike the other
wars of this century, of course, there were deep divisions about the
wisdom and rightness of the Vietnam war. Both
sides spoke with honesty and fervor. And what more can we ask in our
democracy? And yet after more than a decade of desperate boat people,
after the killing fields of
But -- But -- But beyond that, we remember today that all
our gentle heroes of
This memorial has become a monument to that living love. The thousands who come to see the names testify to a love that endures. The messages and mementos they leave speak with a whispering voice that passes gently through the surrounding trees and to out across the breast of our peaceful nation: a childhood teddy bear, a photograph of the son or daughter born too late to know his or her father, a battle ribbon, a note -- there are so many of these, and all are testimony to our living love for them. And our nation itself is testimony to the love our veterans have had for it and for us. Our liberties, our values, all for which America stands is safe today because brave men and women have been ready to face the fire at freedom's front. And we thank God for them.
Yes, gentle heroes and living love and our memories of a
time when we faced great divisions here at home. And yet if this place
recalls all this, both sweet and sad, it also reminds us of a great and
profound truth about our nation: that from all our divisions we have
always eventually emerged strengthened. Perhaps we are finding that new
strength today, and if so, much of it comes from the forgiveness and
healing love that our
For too long a time, they stood in a chill wind, as if on a winter night's watch. And in that night, their deeds spoke to us, but we knew them not. And their voices called to us, but we heard them not. Yet in this land that God has blessed, the dawn always at last follows the dark, and now morning has come. The night is over. We see these men and know them once again -- and know how much we owe them, how much they've given us, and how much we can never fully repay. And not just as individuals but as a nation, we say we love you.
These -- These days, we show our love in many ways --
some of it through the Government. We now fly the POW - MIA flag at this
memorial on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and POW - MIA Recognition Day.
This is a small gesture, but a significant one.
Here at home, a new
Department of Veterans Affairs and extended veterans benefits are
merely outward and visible signs of an inward and invisible grace that
has come to our land.
Now before I go, as have so many others, Nancy and I wanted to leave a note at the wall. And if I may read it to you before doing so, we will put this note here before we leave:
Thank you all, and God bless you.