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Veteran’s Day Speeches

November 11, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Today we remember and honor the past service of America’s veterans, and today we renew our commitment to meet the challenges of America’s future for which they gave so much. Almost two centuries ago, Daniel Webster said in his dedication of the monument at Bunker Hill: “There remains to us a great duty of defense and preservation, and there is open to us also a noble pursuit to which the spirit of the times strongly invites us.” My fellow Americans, on the brink of a new century, we stand before broad, new vistas of hope and progress. But if we are to realize our hopes for that future, we must ensure that America remains the world’s strongest force for peace and freedom, for security and prosperity. We must strengthen and expand the alliances that have brought us thus far. We must continue to reduce the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction.

We must confront the violent conflicts rooted in ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds that so bedevil the world today. We must stop the global scourges of organized crime, drug trafficking, and especially terrorism. We must build an open trading system for the 21st century, and we must stand with all those who stand for democracy and universal human rights. I cannot help but note on this day that in our time for the first time in the entire history of humanity on this planet, more than half the world’s people live in democratically-elected governments because of the example and the force and the power of the ideas of America, and the sacrifice of America’s veterans. (applause)

Let me also say that as we meet the challenges of the next century, our unity as a people will be as it has ever been, our greatest strength. The silent white rows of crosses that surround us mark the final resting place of men and women of all services, all ranks, all races, all religions. They stand as stunning evidence that our founders were right: We are all equal in the eyes of God. That is something we must continue to practice until we get it right. It is something we must teach our children, and it is something we must continue to teach to those troubled areas of the rest of the world, where people still insist on killing over their differences. Our American veterans buried here came from different walks of life. They served our nation in different places and in different ways.

Yet, all were united by a love of country, belief in freedom, and opportunity, and responsibility, and their faith in America’s future. As we commemorate this day of reverence and respect, let us also remember this unity of spirit that has guided our nation forward from its beginnings. No words can repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have stood up for our freedom, but we can honor the memory of our veterans best by remaining the best kind of Americans we can be and keeping our nations strong and secure, one nation under God, to fulfill the vision of a better world that so many of them, our veterans, gave so much to create. Thank you and God bless America. (applause)

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: President Clinton speaking at Arlington National Cemetery. Reconciliation of the past was the theme of today’s ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial The two featured speakers were a famous victim of that war and a man who spent seven years as a POW, retired Air Force Colonel Norm McDaniel.

COL. NORM MC DANIEL, U.S. Air Force (RET.) : Those of us who went in harm’s way to serve our nation and to help our friends do not want our sacrifice to be in vain or forgotten. Some of us endured and still endure mental and physical trauma. Some of us endured long, painful, torturous years as prisoners of war, and some of those who served paid the ultimate price, as represented by the thousands of names on these very walls. If those who gave their lives could speak today, I believe their words to us would be similar to those penned by the poet as referenced earlier, John McCray, when he wrote in “Flander’s Fields,” “I can hear our fallen comrades say, ‘To you, from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high. If you break faith in us who die, shall we not sleep.

So life goes on in Vietnam.” Certainly we want them to rest in peace. So let us make today and tomorrow a time of peace, a time of healing, and a time of continual rededication to the principles that made and keep our great nation free and strong. We owe no less to the man and women we honor here today. Let each of us strive to make our life meaningful by being thankful for each day we live and by truly fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. God bless each of you and God bless America. (Applause)

JAN SCRUGGS, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund: Well, it’s now time for a most historic moment. Joining Norm McDaniel in laying a wreath at this wall is Ms. Kim Phuc. The world remembers Kim Phuc. Kim’s village was under attack when an American commander ordered South Vietnamese planes to drop napalm on a Buddhist pagoda where civilians thought they were safe. Napalm’s a very terrible weapon. It burns through the skin down to the bone. The famous photograph of a nine-year-old girl running down Highway 1 shows the cruelty and the ugly horror of military conflict.

She endured many years of very painful burn therapy. Yet, her private war and her longing for freedom continued. Two years ago, while en route from Moscow, she and her husband sought political asylum in Canada. She has said that if she could talk to the pilot who dropped the napalm on her, she would forgive him. In that same spirit, today she will lay a wreath alongside Col. McDaniel, honoring the U.S. troops who gave their lives. In this simple gesture, Ms. Phuc has a universal message. She’s saying that when wars end, we must begin the very difficult process of forgiveness. An innocent victim of war, she feels no anger at the United States.

She feels no anger at the government of Vietnam. She feels no anger at the man who dropped the napalm on her. She was injured. Her two little brothers were killed. I am pleased to report to you that despite her injuries and despite a very, very difficult life, she is a very charming, vivacious, and lively young woman. Her motto is: Try to keep smiling. She asked to, uh, say a few words today. Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Kim Phuc. (applause)

PHAN THI KIM PHUC, Napalm Victim: Dear friends, I’m very happy to be with you today. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk and meet with you in this Veterans Day. As you know, I am a little girl who was running to escape from the napalm fire. I do not want to talk about the war because I cannot change history. I only want you to remember a tragedy of war in order to do things to stop fighting and killing around the world.

I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain. Sometime I thought I could not live, but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope. Even if I could talk face-to-face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, I could tell him we cannot change history, but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace.

I did not think that I could marry, nor have any children, because of my burns, but now I have a wonderful husband, a lovely child, and a happy family. Thank God. Dear friends, I just dream one day people all over the world can live in real peace, no fighting, and no hostility. I should work–we should work together to be at peace and happiness for all people in all nations. Thank you so very much for letting me be a part of this important day. May God bless you. Thank you. (applause)