Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the Dedication of the Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.

August 31, 1942

In this hospital that we are dedicating today in this green, peaceful Maryland countryside, our Navy battles against disease and disability and death.

Those who fight this vital battle here are anonymous heroes of this war- the officers, men, and women of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, which today celebrates its one hundredth anniversary. They are surgeons and nurses, scientists and technicians, who are part of a service extending throughout the world. On land and sea and in the air, they have carried on their unending fight "to keep as many men at as many guns as many days as possible."

The cornerstone of this hospital was laid by me on Armistice Day, 1940, less than two years ago. And since then I think we can look at it and say it's a job well done.

We were then at peace. But even then we could see the designs of our foes; we had already begun to arm on a vast scale to meet their attacks.

Less than a year later, men of our Navy were killed in action in the North Atlantic Sea. They were men of the destroyers Kearny and Reuben James, patrolling the sea lanes of the North Atlantic. These American ships were attacked by Nazi submarines—let us remember that—many weeks before their partners in crime, the Japanese, launched their attack on Pearl Harbor.

That day of Pearl Harbor— December 7, 1941—contained the darkest hour in our Navy's history. Infamously attacked, seriously damaged, ships of our fleet were put out of commission, and more than three thousand of our men were killed or wounded.

In the months that followed—months without victories- our enemies taunted us with the question, "Where is the United States Navy?"

Today, those enemies know the beginning of the answer to that question. They learned in the Atlantic; they learned in the Coral Sea; they learned off Midway; they are learning now in their attempts to recapture that which was taken from them in the Solomon Islands.

Where is the United States Navy?

It is there where it has always been. It is in there fighting. It is carrying out the command to hit our enemy, and to hit him again, wherever and whenever we can find him.

Battles cannot be fought and won without cost—we know that—and the cost may be heavy in ships and in men. The brave and skillful men and women of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery are dedicated to the task of reducing the cost in men, saving lives on deck, in the engine room, in the gun turrets- alleviating suffering, restoring the wounded to their duties as fighters for the cause of freedom. In the sick bays of all the ships of our Navy, on all the seas, they are risking their own lives that other lives may be saved.

Today, in distant places, we are fighting battles the like of which have never before been known. In the Southwest Pacific, the ships and the planes of our fleet and of the Marine Corps, and the long-range bombers of our Army, are striking at the enemy from widely separated bases- and they are striking together. To carry on such battles to successful conclusion, men who fight on land and in the air must work in perfect unison with men who fight above the sea and on the sea and under the sea.

Warfare like that requires men of extraordinary physical alertness as well as exceptional daring. A split second lost in timing by one individual may cost innumerable lives. Therefore, it is not enough for the doctor to work out new methods of healing and cure. He must work out entirely new methods of preparing men for unprecedented combat conditions in submarines, and planes and tanks.

Without this work of conditioning, flesh and blood could not possibly meet the demands of this modern war. Men must be perfectly attuned in their bodies, as they are perfectly prepared in their minds and hearts, for the fierce test of battle.

That remarkable progress has been achieved in this science can be attested by those of our enemies who have faced our men in battle. But this progress in prevention and cure must not and cannot be limited to the armed forces because of the simple fact that our whole population is involved in winning this total war.

For example, there are today far too many casualties among our civilian population. Why, the number of fatalities from automobile accidents alone last year was 40,000. How many of those deaths were preventable? The number of people injured in such accidents was almost a million and a half.

In industry last year the number of fatalities from accidents was 19,200. How many of those deaths were preventable? The number of people injured in industrial accidents was considerably in excess of two million, including over 100,000 people that were permanently disabled. Those are very startling figures, and should be remembered by every man, woman, and child in this crisis through which we are going.

Among those who have been killed or disabled were men and women who could have helped to build planes, tanks, ships, and guns- who could have served in civilian defense or in many other essential services. As a result of industrial accidents alone, quite apart from those which were fatal, the time lost last year reached the almost incredible total of 42,000,000 man-days.

It is not only our enemies who kill valuable Americans. Carelessness in driving on the highways, or in the operation of machines in factories, costs us many lives needed by our country in using every resource most effectively.

And we must remember that there is a national shortage of doctors and nurses. Every preventable civilian accident diverts sorely needed medical, surgical, and nursing care from the imperative requirements of our Army and Navy. It is not going too far to say that any civilians in the United States who, through reckless driving or through failure to take proper safety measures in industrial plants, kill or maim their fellow citizens are definitely doing injury to our sons and brothers who are fighting this war in uniform. And similar injury to our armed forces is done by pedestrians or workers who, through thoughtlessness or carelessness, put themselves in harm's way.

Not all of us can participate in direct action against our enemies; but all of us can participate in the saving of our national manpower.

Three years ago tomorrow morning, on September 1, 1939, Hitler's legions launched their first blitzkrieg against the people of Poland. In these three years men, women, and children have died, and Nations have been tortured and enslaved, to satisfy the brutal lust for power of a few inhuman tyrants—German, Italian, and Japanese.

To the defeat of such tyrants—to the removal from this earth of the injustices and inequalities that create such tyrants and breed new wars—this Nation is wholly dedicated.

Let this hospital then stand, for all men to see throughout all the years, as a monument to our determination to work and to fight until the time comes when the human race shall have that true health in body and mind and spirit which can be realized only in a climate of equity and faith.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Dedication of the Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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