General Chapman, Secretary Warner, all of the distinguished guests on the platform, officers and men of the First Marine Division, and my fellow Americans here in attendance, and those listening on television and radio:
This is one of the proudest moments of my service as President of the United States--to be here for this ceremony; to award this Unit Citation, the eighth Unit Citation this division has received in its long and proud history, to the First Marine Division; and to welcome home the major elements of that division from Vietnam.
As I welcome you home, I can say to you that the Nation is proud of you. I can say to you, you come home mission accomplished.
When you went to Vietnam 5 years ago, you found a country there with millions of South Vietnamese under Communist rule, and the whole country threatened by a Communist takeover.
As you return, you left a South Vietnam with the South Vietnamese now assuming the major burden of their own defense, and soon developing the capability for their complete defense without the assistance of American fighting men.
Because of your service and the service of other Americans, we can now say that Americans can continue to be withdrawn at approximately or almost at a division a month. And because of your service and the service of other Americans, we can set as our goal--and achieve the goal--of a total withdrawal of all Americans; that goal to be achieved when the South Vietnamese have developed, as they will develop, the capability of defending themselves, and when we have returned all of our prisoners of war wherever they may be in Southeast Asia.
And now to the many of these marines who are young marines, and most of you are young marines, may I refer a bit to the history of this division going clear back to World War I, when the Fifth Regiment, which later became part of the First Marine Division, served them. It is a proud and distinguished history. The names are proud in the history of the Marine Corps and they are very proud in the history of this Nation: Belleau Wood, in World War I; Guadalcanal in World War II; Inchon, in Korea; and now Vietnam.
The question that I am sure must be in your minds is: What will the verdict of history be about your service in Vietnam? Certainly in terms of personal heroism there is no question about the verdict of history. Forty-eight members of the First Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor. It is the most decorated Marine division of all. This is the second Unit Citation in this war.
And there are other heroes in this division--heroes who received no medals; heroes who had a kind of heroism that was not required of your grandfathers who served in World War I or your fathers who may have served in World War II--a kind of service that was special to Vietnam: building a nation, building schools and hospitals and clinics, and helping people, and contributing thousands of dollars of your own funds for helping the people of Vietnam gain what you wanted them to gain--the right to build a nation free from outside control.
So there is no question about the verdict of history so far as your heroism is concerned.
The question which really remains is whether this war is ended in a way that will achieve our goal, and that goal is a Vietnam with a chance to defend itself from a Communist takeover.
If we fail to achieve that goal, if we take the counsel of those who would have us leave Vietnam, even if it means turning over the country to the Communists, then your service and the service of thousands of other Americans, 2 1/2 million in fact, in Vietnam, will have been a failure. But we are not going to fail. We shall succeed.
We shall succeed because of your valor. We shall succeed because of the support of the American people as they realize what the stakes are.
And as I stand here today I look back again over the history of this country. The marines and other Americans who fought in World War I thought they were fighting in a war to end wars, and then their sons fought in World War II.
The marines and other Americans who fought in World War II, after it ended and the United Nations was formed, thought that now at long last we can have an era of peace. And then their younger brothers fought in Korea, and their sons fought in Vietnam.
Now the question is: What happens after Vietnam? How do we end the war? What kind of a peace do we want? And we do want peace.
As I think of peace and as you think of peace, I think of the hundreds of schoolchildren who are here today. I think that the kind of peace we want--and this is our goal is just not peace in our time but peace in their time.
By your service you have done your part in trying to achieve that kind of peace, and I pledge to you that in the conduct of our foreign affairs we shall bring this war to an end in a way worthy of your service and the service of other Americans-to achieve a just and a lasting peace; to achieve what Americans have never had in this century: a full generation of peace.
So proudly today, as Commander in Chief, as one who was proud to serve with you and your predecessors in World War II, I say, America welcomes you home with pride, and we will not fail you in winning the peace.Note: The President spoke at 12:32 p.m. on the parade grounds.
John W. Warner was Under Secretary of the Navy.
On the same day, the White House released an announcement of the awarding of the Presidential Unit Citation. The text of the citation read as follows:
By virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, I have today awarded
THE PRESIDENTIAL UNIT CITATION (NAVY)
FOR EXTRAORDINARY HEROISM TO
FIRST MARINE DIVISION (REINFORCED) FLEET MARINE FORCE
For extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam from 16 September 1967 to 31 October 1968. Operating primarily in Quang Nam Province, the First Marine Division (Reinforced) superbly executed its threefold mission of searching for and destroying the enemy, defending key airfields and lines of communication, and conducting a pacification and revolutionary development program unparalleled in the annals of warfare. With the Division responsible for over 1,000 square miles of territory, it extended protection and pacification to more than one million Vietnamese. The countless examples of courage, resourcefulness, and dedication demonstrated by the officers and men of the First Marine Division attest to their professionalism and esprit de corps. Their combat activities were skillfully carried out in the face of adverse weather and difficult terrain such as canopied jungles, rugged mountains, swampy lowlands, and hot, sandy beaches. During the enemy Tet-offensive in late January of 1968, the First Marine Division dealt a devastating blow to enemy forces attempting to attack Danang. Again, in May 1968, the Division totally crushed an enemy drive directed against the Danang area through the Go Noi Island region southwest of Danang. The Division achieved this resounding victory through the skillful coordination of ground forces, supporting arms, and aircraft support. Most action in the I Corps Tactical Zone during August of 1968 was centered in the First Marine Divisions tactical area of responsibility. The enemy, now looking for a victory which would achieve some measure of psychological or propaganda value, again mounted an attack of major proportions against Danang but were thoroughly repulsed, sustaining heavy casualties. The valiant fighting spirit, perseverance, and teamwork displayed by First Marine Division personnel throughout this period reflected great credit upon themselves and the Marine Corps, and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.