Vice President Ky, General Westmoreland, Ambassador Bunker, distinguished leaders, gentlemen:
I hope that all of you will stand at ease. This week I traveled halfway around the world to come to this section of the world to pay tribute to an old friend--the late Prime Minister Harold Holt of Australia.
I made that long trip for deeply personal reasons. Prime Minister Harold Holt was a close and a trusted friend.
I made that trip also for our country-and for you. For it was Harold Holt who led Australia into the fight for freedom that is taking place here in South Vietnam. It was he who asked his people to live up to their responsibilities and to meet them in Asia--exactly as you are meeting ours: with blood, with sweat, and with bravery.
Last night I sat and talked until after midnight with our gallant airmen in Thailand.
This is not the shortest route back to the White House from Australia--through Vietnam. But because it is almost Christmas and because my spirit would be here with you anyway, I had to come over here this morning.
I wish I could have brought you something more than just myself.
I wish I could have brought you some tangible symbol of the great pride that the American people feel in you, back home.
I wish I could have brought you some gift that would wrap up the care and the concern of your families and your loved ones.
All the debate that you read about can never obscure that pride. The slogans, the placards, and the signs cannot diminish the power of that love.
You will all know that personally when you put your feet back on America's shores-all of you, God willing.
I wish I could have brought you, too, some sign that the struggle that you are in will soon be over--some indication from the other side that he might be willing to let this suffering land finally heal its wounds.
I can bring you the assurance of what you have fought to achieve: The enemy cannot win, now, in Vietnam. He can harass, he can terrorize, he can inflict casualties--while taking far greater losses himself--but he just cannot win. You---each of you--have already seen to that.
I can bring you something more--news of a victory that is being won not on a battlefield but in the cities and the villages all over Asia. I was stimulated and glad to hear what distinguished Vice President Ky told me of the progress that they are making, and in the days ahead what they expect as a result of the planning and the efforts that the new government is making.
It is a victory of confidence. Because of what you and our gallant allies are doing, men throughout Asia are also beginning to feel confident that the future belongs to them--the future belongs to those who love peace.
The greater that confidence, the more secure this vast region of the world will become--and the greater will be our children's chances to live in peace and to live in security.
Because of what you men are doing here today, you may very well prevent a wider war, a greater war--a world war III.
You have come a long way from your homes to fight for a decent world.
There must have been times when you wished that this cup might pass from you-that it might have come in some other place, at some other time, or to some other generation.
But it didn't. It came here, and it is with us now.
You have taken it with your chins up and your chests out. You have taken it with courage that makes all of your countrymen proud of you.
This Christmas--like many Christmases that we have known--comes at a time of great testing for our Nation. This time it is a test of will: whether we have the vision and the steady hand to see us through a grave challenge to our freedom and our liberty. You have met that test. There is no doubt about it.
The last thing that I can bring to you is the promise that your fellow Americans are going to meet that test, too. They may need your help. Sometimes we seem almost frail and weak compared to you sturdy, strong men who are making the sacrifices here. But I can tell you we shall not fail you. What you have done will not have been done in vain.
I pray that you will be strengthened, this Christmas Day in wartime, by the love of your loved ones and your people, by the great confidence that you are inspiring in other people, and by your own great steadfast courage.
I know that just being here among you, walking down your hospital corridors, riding on the back of your jeep--I know that gives me strength--and I need all I can get. For that strength that you have given me, I am very grateful to each of you.
Now may God bless you and may God keep each of you.
Each of you, when you return, will wear the badge of honor that the greatest republic in the world can confer.
This morning, as I went along the hospital beds and distributed the Purple Heart to dozens who had given their limbs and their bodies in line of battle, as I marched down the rows with the Distinguished Service Crosses and the Silver Stars and passed them out to your leaders, I remembered so vividly what General Westmoreland had told me when I was here the last time.
He said, "Mr. President, there are here in Vietnam assembled the best armed forces that any commander in chief ever commanded in all the history of the world."
This is clearly supported by the results that have been achieved since the dark days of 1965.
The distinguished Vice President this morning reminded me, notwithstanding all the complaints we hear, just how far we had come from the valleys and the depths of despondency to the heights and the cliffs, where we know now that the enemy can never win.
But the oldest and most firmly grounded military maxim is this: A military force is only as good as the quality of its leadership at the top.
Now that I have walked among you, in the hospitals and out on that concrete, I am going to ask you to indulge me a moment while I pay tribute to that leadership.
Our leaders have had to meet an enemy that is hardened by experience of over 20 years of fighting--an enemy using his knowledge of the terrain to strike, to move, and to strike again. We have come from way behind.
All the challenges have been met. The enemy is not beaten but he knows that he has met his master in the field. He is holding desperately--he is trying to buy time--hoping that our Nation's will does not match his will.
For what you and your team have done, General Westmoreland, I award you today an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Service Medal you have already proudly earned.
But leadership in modern war requires a team--not just one man of great quality.
The military team that your Commander in Chief has selected and has dispatched to Vietnam represents the best I can find in the entire United States.
Now I take the greatest pride in awarding also to General Creighton Abrams the Distinguished Service Medal.
General Abrams, the quality of your service has rarely been equaled and never excelled.
Now the Distinguished Service Medal
--to General Bruce Palmer, who has served us honorably and with great efficiency;
--to that leader in the skies, General William Momyer, who paves the way and saves you fellows a lot of problems;
--to General Robert Cushman of the
United States Marines;
--to Admiral Kenneth Veth;
--and in absentia, to Admiral "Bush" Bringle.
I shall present to you later your individual citations, for the contribution of each of you has been unique as well as distinguished.
I am very proud--as all Americans can be proud--of the very complete and the intimate collaboration--General Westmoreland, and your team--between the military and the civil arms of policy here at the battlefront. Even as the enemy is being met, a nation is also being built--a new, modern nation is emerging. Of this, we are very proud. And for this, we are grateful.
In the civilian team now in Vietnam we have men who fully match the quality of our military leaders.
These men have demonstrated wisdom and dedication, toughness and compassion, imagination and efficiency.
Therefore, to you, Ambassador Bunker-for the second time in your most distinguished career--your President awards you the Medal of Freedom.
I award the Medal of Freedom to Ambassador Eugene Locke, your loyal and energetic deputy, who is unavoidably not here today.
I award the Medal of Freedom also to your able Ambassador Robert Komer who has pioneered a unique experiment in serving under a military commander to unify all our civil assets in the task of pacification--which is, simply, another name for nation-building.
These citations will be presented to each of you personally at an appropriate time.
Now to all of this marvelous team of Americans--military and civilian alike--and to every gallant man who is out here this morning, and to all those who are not privileged to be here--I want you to carry to them a message.
Say to them: You and they have the gratitude of your Nation and the pride and appreciation of your President.
God bless each of you.
God keep you all.