My fellow Americans:
Not many hours ago I stood among some of your sons in Vietnam.
I had come back to Asia, 14 months after my last visit there, to say farewell to a friend--the late Prime Minister Harold Holt of Australia. I had joined with the leaders of Asia and the Commonwealth in ceremonies and meetings that spoke--not only of our personal loss--but of our common bonds.
The spirit of Harold Holt--the spirit of the New Asia--was powerfully alive among those who gathered to pay tribute to his memory.
I had traveled then to Thailand--to the air base at Khorat--and in the darkness before dawn yesterday morning, I spoke to our pilots and our ground crews--the brave and skillful airmen who are there helping to ease the enemy's pressures on our soldiers and our marines in South Vietnam.
Now, on the airstrip at Cam Ranh Bay, in South Vietnam, your sons and I exchanged "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year." I told them that I wished I could bring them something more--some part of the pride you feel in them, some tangible symbol of your love and concern for them.
But I knew that they could feel your pride. I knew that they were confident of your love. Their faces were smiling, and they had that enthusiasm, that brave generosity of spirit that the world associates with young Americans in uniform.
I decorated 20 of them for gallantry in action. Their faces seemed more grave than the others--preoccupied, I thought, with the savage experience of battle they had all endured.
And then in the hospital, I spoke with those who bore the wounds of war. You Cannot be in such a place, among such men, without feeling grief well up in your throat, without feeling grateful that there is such courage among your own countrymen.
That was Christmastime in Vietnam--a time of war, of suffering, of endurance, of bravery, and devotion to country.
A few hours later, only last night at 9 o'clock, I sat with His Holiness Pope Paul, in his Vatican study.
I had flown thousands of miles, for many hours, from Vietnam to Rome, so that I might receive the counsel of this good man-this friend of peace.
I wanted to tell him that the United States had been actively seeking an end to the war in Vietnam--that we had traveled dozens of roads in search of peace---but that thus far these had proved fruitless journeys.
I wanted to promise him--as I have promised you, my fellow Americans--that the disappointments we had known in the past would never deter us from again trying any reasonable route to negotiations.
These things I said to him last night, and then I listened as His Holiness told me of his eagerness to help bring peace to Vietnam. That is an eagerness that every American boy in uniform feels more than we do. We talked of what might be done to help the people of Vietnam become reconciled to one another in a nation at peace. I felt, once more, what all the world already knows: the human sympathy--the passion for peace-that fills the heart of the Pope.
I told His Holiness that America welcomed his efforts to bring an end to the strife and sorrow. And I told him of a matter that weighs on our hearts this Christmas, and every day of the year: the treatment of American prisoners of war in North Vietnam.
I told him how we hoped he would intercede on their behalf, trying to gain for them more humane living conditions and seeking for them the elemental right to communicate with their loved ones. I assured him that his representatives would be welcomed wherever prisoners were held in South Vietnam.
That was Christmastime in Rome--a time of quiet, of understanding, of communication without any barrier.
Now that the holy day itself has come, I wish each of you a full measure of happiness. I hope that all of you may remember, this Christmas, the brave young men who celebrate the holy season far from their homes, some in trailers, some in rice paddies and foxholes, but all of them serving their country--serving their loved ones-serving each of us.
I hope, too, that your hearts may be filled with peace within, as your country so earnestly seeks peace in the world.
Our country has known many wartime Christmases. It may seem difficult, at such times, to even say "Merry Christmas." But when you think of the bravery of the human spirit, and the compassion of the human heart, and the power of life to triumph over pain and darkness, you are properly thankful. Your own spirits are lifted higher; and you say it--and mean it--as I do now. Merry Christmas.