Secretary' Ignatius, General Greene, Members of the Congress, ladies and gentlemen:
As we meet here in the East Room today, it is now early Thursday morning out in Vietnam.
My thoughts go back to October 25, 1 year ago--when I left Manila to go visit with our men in Cam Ranh Bay.
On that day I saw some of America's bravest sons, men like Major Lee and his comrades. I talked with them, we visited with each other, we ate and we laughed together. And never, in all of my life, have I ever been prouder of my country. Never have I been so moved by the courage and the steadfastness of America's sons.
On that day I gave them this pledge before I left Cam Ranh Bay: "We shall never let you down, nor your fighting comrades, nor the 15 million people of South Vietnam, nor the hundreds of millions of Asians who are counting on us to show here--here in Vietnam... that aggression can't succeed."
Twice before we have fought in Asia. Twice we have stopped the aggressor and we have achieved peace, and we will achieve peace again in Vietnam. Our men who are in Vietnam at this hour have no doubt about it. Our allies who fight beside us do not doubt it.
I wish that every American could have a chance to see, in distant Asia, the battlefields of this and other wars: all the remote fields and hills where Americans have died for freedom--in Vietnam, in Korea, in the Philippines.
There has been some furor in this country in the past week or so about the "yellow peril." Well, let me take just a moment to point out the absurdity of this charge.
We fought side by side with Asians at Bataan and Corregidor, in Korea, and now in Vietnam.
We have utterly repudiated the racist nonsense of an earlier era. Indeed, we have made a commitment in Asia because we do believe
--that no men, whatever the pigmentation of their skins, should ever be delivered over to totalitarianism;
--that freedom is not a prize reserved for white Europeans or Americans in our private enclaves of affluence.
Race has no place in our purpose. The American commitment is clear. It was given clear and eloquent voice by a young American, a fighting man, who wrote to Secretary Rusk from Vietnam and said:
"We are fighting for the freedom of these people, as we once fought for our own. Of these thousands of young Americans over here, we all take pride in fighting for the principles that made our country the greatest on earth ...
"Not all young Americans," he said, "in fact, not even a majority of us, sit in college classrooms and see fit to protest that which our government does. Not all young Americans attend LSD parties and park on the grass .... Not all young Americans protest a war for freedom ....
"When our grandchildren read about Vietnam in history lessons, we shall be proud to tell them that we were a part of that lesson."
The day is coming when Americans of another generation will return to Pleiku, Con Thien, and Cam Lo. They will revere them-as we do Corregidor and Seoul--because for a time, these were the outposts of freedom that were under fire.
One of the heroes of Cam Lo is here with us in the East Room this morning. Men like Major Howard V. Lee have stood ready-throughout American history--to pay whatever price their country asks.
The existence of liberty in America--the liberty that permits any minority of our people to dissent from the policies of the majority--ultimately really depends on the courage and the perseverance of men like Major Lee and his brothers in arms. Their willingness to risk their lives for liberty is what preserves it for their countrymen.
My message for them this morning--for those here and for all those who serve beneath our flag--is the one that I carried to Cam Ranh Bay a year ago. Then I said:
"Make no mistake about it: The American people .... are proud of you. There are some who may disagree with what we are doing here, but .... We in America depend on you, on the young and on the brave, to stop aggression before it sweeps forward. For then it must be stopped by larger sacrifice and by heavier cost.
"We depend on you. We know that a nation that stops producing brave men soon ceases to be a nation."
That message has not changed. Neither has America's mission in Vietnam changed. Nor will it change until we achieve the peace that we seek and all those young heroes are home with us once again.
Secretary Ignatius will now read Major Lee's citation.
[Text of citation, read by Secretary of the Navy Paul R. Ignatius]
The President of the United States in the name of the Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to
MAJOR HOWARD V. LEE
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer, Company E, Fourth Marines, Third Marine Division near Cam Lo, Republic of Vietnam, on 8 and 9 August 1966. A platoon of Major (then Captain) Lee's company, while on an operation deep in enemy territory, was attacked and surrounded by a large Vietnamese force. Realizing that the unit had suffered numerous casualties, depriving it of effective leadership, and fully aware that the platoon was even then under heavy attack by the enemy, Major Lee took seven men and proceeded by helicopter to reinforce the beleaguered platoon. Major Lee disembarked from the helicopter with two of his men and, braving withering enemy fire, led them into the perimeter, where he fearlessly moved from position to position, directing and encouraging the overtaxed troops. The enemy then launched a massive attack with the full might of their forces. Although painfully wounded by fragments from an enemy grenade in several areas of his body, including his eye, Major Lee continued undauntedly throughout the night to direct the valiant defense, coordinate supporting fires, and apprise higher headquarters of the plight of the platoon. The next morning he collapsed from his wounds and was forced to relinquish command. However the small band of Marines had held their position and repeatedly fought off many vicious enemy attacks for a grueling six hours until their evacuation was effected the following morning. Major Lee's actions saved his men from capture, minimized the loss of lives, and dealt the enemy a severe defeat. His indomitable fighting spirit, superb leadership, and great personal valor in the face of tremendous odds, reflect great credit upon himself and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON