Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at the Dedication of Veterans' Hospital at Roanoke, Virginia.

October 19, 1934

Governor Perry, Mr. Chairman, my friends:

I could not have failed to receive inspiration during this past hour from the generous welcome that so many of you good people have given me since I got off the train in Roanoke and during my motor trip out here, and now, at the end at this hospital site, from the view of these magnificent buildings and, almost more than anything else, I think, from the glorious hills of this lovely country of Virginia.

And I am honored, too, in the escort that you have given, the Virginia National Guard, these young men from two schools which are known throughout the length and breadth of the land, V. M. I. and V. P. I.

In coming here today, in coming to take part in the dedication of the latest addition to our chain of veterans' hospitals, I do not seek to enumerate or to catalogue the many steps which have been taken by your Federal Government to care for its veterans of many wars,—generous steps, fine steps, and of late years, adequate steps.

Most of you in this great audience are from this neighborhood and in the years to come you will see how your Government treats the men who have served it, treats the men who will occupy this hospital. They will be your friends and your neighbors. I commend them to your care, and I am very certain that you will give it to them.

You see before you today a monument which is a very definite representation of the national policy of your Government, that its disabled and sick veterans shall be accorded the best treatment which medical and surgical science can possibly supply.

In a larger sense these buildings are a symbol of the broader policy, the policy that the Government is seeking to give aid not only to the veterans of its wars, but also to hundreds of thousands of other citizens—men, women and children who are handicapped by environment or by circumstance and are lacking to. day in what reasonable people call the essentials of modern civilization.

For a great many years we have seen a constantly growing realization of the fact that any large or small group in any community which lacks the elementary necessities of proper food, of decent housing, of adequate medical attention, of essential education, drags down the level of the whole country, and of necessity retards the progress of the whole country. It is the same thought, to put it into naval terms, as to say that the speed of a fleet is the speed of the slowest vessel in the fleet. Or, to put it in military terms, the speed of an army is the speed of the slowest unit comprising that army.

In one sense these men and women and children that I am talking about are not forgotten people—I believe you have heard that phrase before— for the very good reason that we have known of their existence and have appreciated their plight for many years. But, in another sense they have been forgotten, for it has only been in recent years that Government, as such, has undertaken to help them on a national scale.

The further we go in our survey to find out who these people are and where they live, the more appalled I am by the magnitude of our task. Most of us know in general terms of the slum conditions which exist in many of the cities of America. Most of us know, from hearsay or from personal knowledge, of people who have lived for generations in back eddies remote from the active stream of life. But, I think, we have failed to realize the existence of those underprivileged people who are present and largely forgotten in practically every single one of the more than three thousand counties that make up the forty-eight States of the Union.

The improvement of their hard lot—for they exist in every community—is a definite obligation on all of our citizens and I am confident that the veterans of our American wars will be among the first to recognize this fact.

The improvement of their hard lot compels our immediate exertions, not only because of the individual human beings who are suffering today, but also because future generations of American citizens will be the descendants of those who are now in need. In this thought also the veterans of our wars will go along.

Let it be well remembered that the hundreds of thousands of men and women and children to whom I have referred, scattered throughout our Nation, have no splendid hospitals for their care, have no medical attention, such as will be provided in this veterans' home, have no opportunities for adequate education, and can but suffer the ills of their lives according to their own individual circumstances.

You have heard it said that we must restore prosperity. You have heard some kind people say that the country is distinctly better off from a material point of view than it was last year. I am inclined to agree with them. But, other people, who fail to think things through, forget that one cause of the depression which we are beginning to leave behind, was the very existence of millions of men, women and children who have been and continue to be a definite drag against the return of prosperity.

It must remain our constant objective to eliminate the causes of depression and the drags on prosperity. It must be our constant objective to do what we can to raise these people up to a higher standard of living, to a better chance in life. It will cost money to do it. In the spending of this money, it goes without saying that we must have due regard for the good credit of the Government of the United States. That, my friends, means that we cannot spend at once or in any given year all that we could possibly spend.

I mentioned once upon a time that we must do first things first. The care of the disabled, the sick, the destitute and the starving in all ranks of our population—that, my friends, is the first thing. To this the Veterans of American Wars give their approval in agreement with the overwhelming majority of our other citizens.

I make this statement in regard to the Veterans of America because I believe in them, because I am confident of their patriotism, their understanding of our national needs; and I make it because of two other reasons. The first is that our Federal Government and our State Governments have given to them many privileges not accorded to other citizens; and the other reason is that it has been amply demonstrated that the Veterans of the World War, today in the prime of life, are better off on the average, from the point of view of employment and of annual income than the average of any other great group of our citizens. That is why I know they will go along with my thought of caring first for the great masses of people in this country who are crying for care and who need it now.

So, my friends, as I look out on these beautiful mountains, I cannot help feeling that we should let these facts about our country, together with this great monument—this veterans' hospital and. all the other institutions of their kind throughout the country—serve as a symbolic and bold denial of any careless statement that the United States does not take care of those who have served it in war. But, more than that, I should like to have this monument and all the others throughout the length and breadth of the land serve as a symbolic affirmance of our American belief in the underlying patriotic willingness of everybody in the country-veterans, non-veterans, men, women and children—to put first things first.

That is the way of American progress. This symbol, which we dedicate today, will live all through the years to remind us that we are going to make progress in an American way.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at the Dedication of Veterans' Hospital at Roanoke, Virginia. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives