John F. Kerry photo

Radio Address to the Nation

May 29, 2004

Good morning, this is John Kerry.

Sixty-three years ago, Americans gathered around their radios to hear a voice call them to greatness.

In a fireside chat just days after Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt told the nation: "Together with other free peoples, we are now fighting to maintain our right to live among our world neighbors in freedom, in common decency, without fear of assault."

Later today, when the World War II memorial is dedicated, we will pay tribute to the 16 million American men and women who answered that call and fought for our freedom - and the world's.

When I watch the ceremony, the memory of one man in particular, my father, will make my heart swell with pride. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps a year before Pearl Harbor. He was in the service when I was born in Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Colorado.

And for the rest his life, he served -- nationally and locally, by vocation and as a volunteer.

He told me shortly before he died that the "human conscience, when it works, is the most divine thing in our small segment of the universe."

In my father's time, conscience was the difference between honor and holocaust.

The difference is why we remember the Greatest Generation in an imperishable way. Because of them, liberty did not perish from this Earth. When the future hung in the balance, they stood on the edge of tyranny and devastation and risked their lives for a history and a hope bigger than themselves.

In America, we're blessed. This Memorial Day, when you stop and think about what it takes for our men and women in uniform to risk their lives, say good-bye to their families, and go to frontlines half a world away - it is a profound gesture of honor.

It symbolizes the spirit of America - that there are citizen soldiers ready to do what it takes to live and lead by our values. I met so many of them when I fought in Vietnam and I have met them since from Desert Storm, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraqi Freedom. The love of country and sense of duty I have seen and known is special. You carry it with you always. And it's because of those who fought before and those who fight today that it's time do what it takes to build an America that's once again respected in the world.

It's time to ensure that our men and women in uniform are the best-equipped fighting force in the world.

And some of the best armor we could ever give our troops will be allies to fight by their side. America has always drawn its power not only from the might of its weapons, but from the trust and respect of nations around the globe. From the World Wars to the Cold War and beyond, American-led alliances have been a driving force in the survival of freedom.

Today, the new threat of terrorism demands these alliances on a global scale - to share intelligence, to get the terrorists before they get us, and to stop the world's deadliest weapons from falling into the world's most dangerous hands. We must rebuild alliances that have been shredded - because an America respected in the world will be an America stronger in the world - and safer here at home.

We are facing an enemy that will stop at nothing. It's time to put away pride and stubbornness. It's time to answer the call to greatness and lead the world. It's time to let America be America again.

My father would have prized this day. And he'd be proud to see who I have the honor of being with at the dedication. I met Joe Lesniewski along the campaign trail in Pennsylvania. He's one of eighteen living paratroopers from the Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division - one of the Band of Brothers who on D-Day parachuted into the enemy territory behind the Normandy beachhead.

It's Joe's courage that this memorial celebrates, the courage of almost 400,000 of his fellow soldiers who did not return home, and of the 16 million Americans who will forever be the Greatest Generation. The World War II Memorial is not just monument and stone; it is a medal for all who served and sacrificed.

So today, we learn, we are inspired, and we ask: What will be said of our generation? In our time of peril, will we meet the test?

That requires us never to forget our values and never to neglect our veterans. It calls on us now, as it once called on Joe, to do all that we must to defend our country. And it calls on us, as it has every President, from Franklin Roosevelt on, not to go it alone, but to build and lead a global alliance for freedom and against fear.

We honor the legacy of the greatest generation by making respect for our country and the world the great legacy of our generation. We can let America be America again.

Thanks for listening.

John F. Kerry, Radio Address to the Nation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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