Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at New Washington National Airport.

September 28, 1940

Ladies and gentlemen:

I THINK We are very fortunate in having a perfect day for this opening after having had to put it off last week.

We have all been very much thrilled at this surprise party which we have given to the good people of Washington and Virginia. All these planes, over five hundred of them, came here—I knew about it in advance, but you good people did not -and it has been a great show. It has also been a wonderful thing for us to see these transport planes come here, just behind me, and make the first series of landings that have ever been made on this field.

You have seen that display and I want, in my behalf and, I think, in yours, to make a new signal to the Army and the Navy that have been flying over us, and the signal to them is this:

"Well done! The Commander-in-Chief's compliments and thanks to all hands."

In these serious days, the roar above us of these American made airplane engines in hundreds of American-made planes is symbolic of our determination to build up a defense on sea and on land and in the air that is capable of overcoming any attack against us. They represent in a small way the power we ultimately must have—and will soon have. Rather let me describe this as just a gratifying flexing of the kind of fighting muscle that democracy can produce and is producing.

They are here upon a peaceful mission. We all hope that their missions will always be in the ways of peace. We shall strive with all our energies and skills to see to it that they are never called upon for missions of war. But the more of them we have the less likely we are to have to use them—the less likely are we to be attacked from abroad.

Here, in this broad Potomac Valley, the Father of the Country, the first President and his associates of one hundred and fifty years ago, sought to place the Nation's capital at a center of what was then the channels of transportation. There was a long dispute about the plan.

So, too, there has been a long dispute about the plan for this airport—a dispute that occupied twelve years; and, finally, the present head of the Nation had a dream.

This problem of an adequate flying field for Washington, if you go back to it, has been a problem since the Wright Brothers had their first crash on the Fort Myer parade ground thirty or more years ago. And we might even go further back, indeed, and say the problem has existed ever since Dr. Langley tried to fly his "Aerodrome" from a barge that was anchored just below us here in the Potomac.

Following my first dream, I kept having bad dreams, as you know, dreams of sudden crashes, and things like that. The dreams got bad, and I was afraid that they might come true. Therefore, upon the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act, one of the first tasks I asked of the new agency was to create an adequate airport for the nation's capital.

That was in August, two years ago. On November 19, 1938, I watched a dredge bring the first mucky soil from beneath ten feet of water near the spot where we now stand. They told me it was a practical thing to do because we could kill two birds with one stone. That is a favorite maxim of mine, and we try to do that wherever we can. By deepening the river, we minimized the possibility of flood damage; and the soil we have dredged out of the old river has been used to build most of the field for the airport.

They told me, in November, 1938, that it would take two years to make this field usable. Today the field has been used and we are well within that limit by two months. It will be in regular use for the public within three more months, and Assistant Secretary Hinckley tells me that it will be so extensively used, because of the growth of civil aviation in these past two years, that already we must begin to plan other subsidiary airports for Washington as, indeed, we must do in many other parts of the Nation.

For proof of the value of the growth of aviation to the Nation's defense, we can make comparisons with George Washington's day. He had a citizenry ready to spring to arms, because nearly every citizen had arms hanging over the fireplace and knew how to use them. Every gentleman wore a sword, and every farmer had a musket-piece which he used almost every week or so to bring food to his table. But two years ago less than twenty-five thousand of our people—only one-fiftieth of one per cent of the population—knew how to fly an airplane. If only that proportion of the American people had known how to use a musket in Washington's day, the Continental Army would have consisted of little more than a corporal's guard.

Today fifty thousand young Americans are licensed flyers and the number is growing by almost two thousand every month that goes by. They are not all military pilots—but they are as ready to become military pilots as were the farmers of Washington's day to become riflemen of the line. Whereas, two years ago not more than a quarter of a million of our people used the airlines and private planes to travel in, that number—the number of citizens at least familiar with the airplane- has doubled and will soon be tripled.

That is why an airport like this is important to the national defense. That is why this airport, soon to be one of the world's greatest facilities, surely its most convenient and, some of us like to think, probably its most beautiful, should be brought with all possible emphasis to the attention of our people during this awakening of America to the needs of national defense. This airport and many others which we hope will follow, will draw free men freely to use a peacetime implement of commerce which, we hope, will never be converted to wartime service.

Our newspapers and the radio tell us day after day how increasingly important aircraft has become both as a weapon in the hands of aggressors and to those who fight, or may be compelled to fight, for their continued national existence. These reports easily explain why those squadrons of the Army and Navy air forces, the thunder of which still rings in our ears, were a prelude to the ceremonies here this afternoon—a prelude to the completion and operation today even of this civilian aviation center of which we are so proud—the Washington National Airport.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at New Washington National Airport. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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