Ronald Reagan picture

Address at Commencement Exercises at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado

May 30, 1984

Secretary Orr, General Gabriel, General Scott, Senator Goldwater, Congressman Kramer, and distinguished guests, officers, cadets, and friends of the Air Force:

It's an honor and a real pleasure to come to Colorado Springs and to the Pike's Peak region. I just hope all Americans have the opportunity to visit Colorado and this breathtaking campus. Like me, they'll feel a deep pride in you, the men and women of our Air Force Academy.

On the flight from Washington, I asked our Air Force pilot for a few tips on Academy tradition. Well, he talked about Cadet Nino Baldacci— [laughter] —and then he offered to demonstrate an Immelman and a wingover. [Laughter] And my Air Force aide turned pale and said, "Mr. President, it would be better if you just remember the Air Force Academy is 7,250 feet above sea level, and that's far above West Point and Annapolis." [Laughter]

The greatest privilege of my office has been to lead the people who defend our freedom and whose dedication, valor, and skill increase so much our chance to live in a world of peace. I believe that we've made great progress in our efforts to rebuild the morale and the readiness of our Armed Forces. Once again, young Americans wear their uniforms and serve their flag with pride, and our military forces are back on their feet and standing tall.

And now, the class of 1984 has its turn. After 4 years of hard work and dedication, you've earned the right to be saluted. It will now be your responsibility to guard the flame of peace and freedom and to keep that flame burning brightly.

Your jobs will never be easy. But I believe you're ready to meet the challenges before you and to turn them into opportunities for America. Your experience at this magnificent institution, guided by honesty, integrity, and an abiding loyalty to our nation will serve you well.

Dedicated instructors have increased your knowledge and understanding. You've been trained to deal in facts, not wishful thinking. And in doing many things together in classrooms, squadrons, and on the playing fields, you've learned the value of leadership and discipline and the need for both.

You've lived with the traditions and pioneering spirit of Rickenbacker, Billy Mitchell, Spaatz, Yeager, Lance Sijan, and the Mercury 7. You know that without the yeast of pioneering, we cannot rise above the status quo.

Personal honor, courage, and professional competence will guide your thoughts and actions. You understand the horrors of war, and you know that peace with freedom is the highest aspiration of our time. As a matter of fact, these past 4 years have prepared you to take your place in the best darn air force in the world.

So, now that I've paid your superiors a compliment, I hope they won't mind if their Commander in Chief pulls rank just this once. I hereby direct that the Secretary of the Air Force and the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy remit all existing confinements and other cadet punishments for minor offenses, and that this order be carried out today.

By the calendar, 52 years separate my college class from yours. Yet by the changes mine has seen, it might as easily have been 520. The world which the class of '32 had grown to know would soon disappear. True, America was in the midst of a great worldwide depression which all of us desperately wanted to escape. Our immediate concern was work, but our class, like every college class, also thought about the future—and what a future it has been.

The pace of change, once orderly and evolutionary, became frantic and revolutionary. A series of scientific and technological revolutions flashed past us, touching Americans everywhere and every day. A new future was discovered and then quickly rediscovered. Technological progress was a cataclysmic rush.

The armies of Napoleon had not moved across Europe any faster than Caesar's legions eighteen centuries earlier—and neither army worried about air cover. But from my college days to yours, we went from open cockpits to lunar landings, from space fiction to space shuttles. Plotted on a graph, the lines representing technological progress would leap vertically off the page, and it wouldn't matter whether you plotted breakthroughs in agriculture or medicine, communications or engineering, genetics or military capability.

During the past few decades, the way we look and think about our world has changed in fundamental and startling ways. In 1932 "splitting the atom" was a contradiction in terms. We knew the word "atom" came from the Greek "atomos," meaning indivisible and, by definition, you couldn't split anything that was indivisible. But Albert Einstein wouldn't arrive in the States until the following year, and the Manhattan Project had not yet begun. The nuclear age was more than a decade away.

So many of the things that we take for granted today didn't exist on my commencement day: transistors, computers, supersonic flight, fiber optics, organ transplants, microelectronic chips, and xerography. Yes, even the venerable Xerox machine is only 25 years old.

Our progress results from human creativity and the opportunity to put our knowledge to use to make life better. We have yet to rid the world of disease and sickness, but today more people are living longer than ever before in human history. In many ways the good old days never were. In fact, I've already lived some two decades longer than my life expectancy when I was born. That's a source of annoyance to a number of people—[ laughter]—

But the greatest of all resources is the human mind; all other resources are discovered only through creative human intelligence. God has given us the ability to make something from nothing. And in a vibrant, open political economy, the human mind is free to dream, create, and perfect. Technology, plus freedom, equals opportunity and progress.

Now, what about your generation? Where do you go from here? The quickening pace shouldn't generate the belief that the tide of events is beyond your control. No, you should be confident that with wisdom, responsibility, and care you can harness change to shape your future.

We've only seen the beginning of what a free and courageous people can do. The bold, not the naysayers, will point the way, because history has shown that progress often takes its greatest strides where brave people transform an idea which is scoffed at by skeptics into a tangible and important part of everyday life.

Your generation stands on the verge of greater advances than humankind has ever known. America's future will be determined by your dreams and your visions. And nowhere is this more true than America's next frontier—the vast frontier of space.

The space age is barely a quarter of a century old, but already we've pushed civilization forward with our advances in science and technology. Our work on the space shuttle gives us routine access to the landscape above us, dropping off payloads, performing experiments, and fixing satellites. And I believe we've only touched the edge of possibilities in space. It's time to quicken our pace and reach out to new opportunities.

This past January, in my State of the Union Address, I challenged our nation to develop a permanently manned space station and to do so within a decade. And now we're moving forward with a strategy that will chart the future course of the U.S.. space program.

The strategy establishes priorities, provides specific direction for our future efforts, and assigns responsibilities to various government agencies. Above all, America's space strategy offers a balanced program that will best serve the down-to-earth needs of our own people and people everywhere.

Our goals are ambitious and yet achievable. They include a permanently manned presence in space for scientific, commercial, and industrial purposes; increased international cooperation in civil space activities; expanded private investment and involvement; cost-effective access to space with the shuttle; and strengthened security and capability to maintain the peace.

The benefits to be reaped from our work in space literally dazzle the imagination. Together, we can produce rare, life-saving medicines, saving thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. We can manufacture superchips that improve our competitive position in the world computer market. We can rapidly and efficiently repair defective satellites. We can build space observatories enabling scientists to see out to the edge of the universe. And we can produce special alloys and biological materials that benefit greatly from a zero-gravity environment.

Let me give you just one exciting glimpse that illustrates the great potential of how working in space can improve life on Earth. There is a medicine called—and I'm not quite sure of my pronunciation—it is either "urokinase" or "urokenase", but whichever name, it is used to treat victims of pulmonary embolism and heart attacks caused by blood clots. On Earth, this medicine is very difficult and expensive to produce. About 500,000 doses are needed annually at a cost of $500 million. Dr. Robert Jastrow, chairman of the first NASA Lunar-Exploration Committee, notes that tests in our shuttle have shown that production of urokinase in zero gravity could reduce that cost by a factor of ten or more. We could make this medicine available to thousands of people who cannot afford it at today's price.

Our willingness to accept the challenge of space will reflect whether America's men and women today have the same bold vision, the same courage and indomitable spirit that made us a great nation. Where would we be if the brave men and women who built the West let the unknowns and dangers overwhelm them? Where would we be if our aviation pioneers let the difficulties and uncertainties sway them?

The only limits we have are those of your own courage and imagination. And our freedom and well-being will be tied to new achievements and pushing back new frontiers. That's the challenge to the class of '84.

If I could leave you with one final thought, it would be to remind you again: The measure of America's future safety, progress, and greatness depends on how well you hold fast to our most precious values—values that embody the culmination of 5,000 years of Western civilization. Let your determination to make this world better and safer override all other considerations.

This Academy was not built just to produce air warriors; it was also built to produce leaders who understand the great stakes involved in the defense of this country, leaders who can be entrusted with the responsibility to protect peace and freedom. You are those leaders. And while you must know better than those before you how to fight a war, you must also know better than those before you how to deter a war, how to preserve peace.

As you look to the future, always remember the treasures of our past. Every generation stands on the shoulders of the generation that came before. Jealously guard the values and principles of our heritage; they didn't come easy.

Inspiration springs from great tradition. As military officers, guard the traditions of your service built here in the foothills of the Rockies and in the air over Ploesti, Mig Alley, the Red River Valley, and a thousand other places. The traditions you hold will serve you well.

Good luck, Godspeed, and God bless you all.

[At the conclusion of his formal address, the President presented the Medal of Honor to William]. Crawford.]

Now, there's something I want to do that means a lot to me and, I'm sure, will mean a lot to you. We're graced with the company of a man who believed so much in the values of our nation that he went above and beyond the call of duty in defending them.

In July 1944 a grateful nation bestowed the Medal of Honor on a soldier, a private, for extraordinary heroism on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy. The soldier could not accept the award that day. He was a prisoner of war, and his father accepted in his behalf.

Since early in this century, it has been customary for the President to present the Medal of Honor. Well, nearly 40 years have gone by, and it's time to do it right. A native son of Colorado and certainly a good friend of the Air Force Academy will forever be in the select company where the heroes of our country stand.

It gives me great pleasure to ask Mr. William J. "Bill" Crawford, formerly of the 36th Infantry Division, to come forward.

Colonel Wallisch. Please rise. Attention to orders: The President of the United States takes pleasure in awarding the Medal of Honor to William J. Crawford for service as set forth in the following citation.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Altavilla, Italy, 13 September 1943. When Company I attacked an enemy-held position on Hill 424, the Third Platoon, in which Private Crawford was a squad scout, attacked as base platoon for the company. After reaching the crest of the hill, the platoon was pinned down by intense enemy machine gun and small-arms fire.

Locating one of these guns, which was dug in on a terrace on his immediate front, Private Crawford, without orders and on his own initiative, moved over the hill under the enemy fire to a point within a few yards of the gun emplacement and single-handedly destroyed the machine gun and killed three of the crew with a hand grenade, thus enabling his platoon to continue its advance.

When the platoon, after reaching the crest, was once more delayed by enemy fire, Private Crawford, again in the face of intense fire, advanced directly to the front, midway between two hostile machine gun nests, located on a higher terrace and emplaced in a small ravine.

Moving first to the left, with a hand grenade, he destroyed one gun emplacement and killed the crew. He then worked his way, under continuous fire, to the other, and with one grenade and the use of his rifle, killed one enemy and forced the remainder to flee. Seizing the enemy machine gun, he fired on the withdrawing Germans and facilitated his company's advance.

The President. Thank you. I think everyone could sit down, couldn't they?

Colonel Wallisch. Oh, yes, sir.

The President. Yes, please be seated. [Laughter] Sometimes I don't know my own power. [Laughter]

For the past 12 years, the Commander in Chief's trophy has symbolized football supremacy among the Air Force Academy, West Point, and Annapolis. I understand that it's a rotating trophy, but from the performance of the Falcon football team these last 2 years, it looks like you have other ideas. [Laughter]

Last year, the scores weren't even close. When I think back to my playing days at a place called Eureka College, I must tell you, I can sympathize, however, with West Point and Annapolis. [Laughter] I remember some rough afternoons on the gridiron, in which we were winning too many "moral victories." [Laughter]

But as all athletes know, character is built on the playing fields through hard work, fair play, and gritty determination to rise to the highest challenge. The Duke of Wellington once remembered that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eaton.

It gives me great pleasure to ask Cadets First Class Marty Louthan, Michael Kirby, and John Kershner to come forward to accept the Commander in Chief's trophy.

[After presenting the trophy, the President was made an honorary member of the football team and was given a Falcon jersey.]

Note: The President spoke at 9:38 a.m. at Falcon Stadium on the Academy grounds. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr, Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Gen. Winfield W. Scott, Superintendent of the U.S.. Air Force Academy.

Following his remarks, the President was made an honorary member of the class of 1984 and was awarded the Distinguished American Award by William Thayer Tutt, chairman of the board, U.S.. Air Force Academy Foundation. The President then participated in the awarding of the diplomas to the graduating cadets.

Following the ceremonies at the Academy, the President returned to Washington, DC.

Ronald Reagan, Address at Commencement Exercises at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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