Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks in Dayton at the Montgomery County Fair

September 05, 1966

Thank you, Congressman Love. This has been a very happy day for me. And you don't know how stimulating and inspiring it is to come out here in the heartland of America and see so many happy faces.

Mayor Hall, it is wonderful to be in your great city and in this wonderful Montgomery County Fair. It is wonderful to share this platform with you.

I am delighted that I could be here today with my longtime friend in the Senate, your own distinguished Senator Frank Lausche.

Frank, of course, needs no more introduction to Ohio than Rocky Colavito needs an introduction to the Cleveland Indians.

The Senator is an institution in Ohio and he is a very valuable, very perceptive, and very effective legislator for his country in Washington.

I am deeply honored by the fine introduction that your eminent and capable Representative in Congress, Congressman Rodney Love, gave me.

I wish that both my father and mother could have been here so they could have heard what he had to say about their son. My father would have enjoyed it and my mother would have believed it.

I want to thank all of you good people for voting for Congressman Love. His excellent work on the House Armed Services Committee and other areas has won for him an enviable high reputation and the respect of all the Members of the Congress with whom he works.

I am delighted that he would accompany me here today and would give me a chance to meet the people for whom we both work.

The young national president of the Young Democrats, a very proud son of Ohio and one of whom Ohio can really be proud, is with us today, Virgil Musser.

The Mayor has already introduced my old friend Frazier Reams. And Jim Suffridge, Walter Reuther, and Joe Keenan are outstanding labor leaders who have joined me in my trip through beautiful Ohio today.

I also want to personally thank Michael Liskany, Mr. Goldie Scheible, and Mr. Conrad Grimes of the AFL-CIO for inviting me to come here and spend this Labor Day with you.

On this Labor Day weekend I have sought the best relaxation that a President can get-that is, by folding away Washington newspapers, leaving the Capital, and coming out and visiting with his friends and countrymen.

I have traveled to the beautiful State of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and now beautiful Ohio. I have talked about the problems of the people, the basic resources of our great, beautiful America-about our health, our economy, our working men and women, our cities, our farms, our rural communities, about the problems that we have in our relations with other nations, and about supporting our fighting men who are standing in Vietnam tonight protecting your freedom and our liberty.

But with all the bright young faces that I am looking at now here in Dayton, I want to talk about another resource--a rich and inexhaustible and unpredictable resource. I want to talk about the young people of America.

A wise man once said that youth is too valuable to be wasted on the young. But God has shown a higher wisdom, and in our country in this time, even as man's life span lengthens, we are getting a good deal younger by the year.

Fifteen years ago, our average age in America was 30. Today our average age in America is 28. In another 4 years the average age in America will be 27.

As we get younger, our reach is growing, making it possible for youth today to realize what other generations could only dream. With the moon and beyond to be conquered, with diseases to be checked that have long cursed mankind, with millions who live in the darkness of ignorance awaiting the light of learning, with the battle of civil rights only half begun, young people today can still hold to what Emerson said a century ago:

"We think our civilization is near its meridian, but we are yet only at the cockcrowing and the morning star."

My generation was concerned with action and with ideas, but we were also very obsessed with material goods. We came out of a great depression and a great war determined to hold and increase the number of things that each experience had denied us.

We too often looked upon America as a vast cornucopia spilling its plenty into the hands of those who would seize it. Today, by design rather than by accident, we are producing more material comforts with less manual effort than we have ever produced before.

So this new generation born in an era of affluence--will, I hope and trust, correct the balance and put ideas where they belong: that is, ahead of things. Only then can a nation like ours tap new veins of inner strength which give meaning to what its people own and how much they earn and how much they produce.

"What meaning, success?" is the question this generation of American youth must deal with. For democracy cannot last without a philosophy and democracy cannot continue without a purpose. And when more than half of its people are young, a democracy must ask its youth: "What is your philosophy?" Democracy must ask its young, "What is your purpose in life?"

Such questions are not as difficult to answer in a time of much adversity, as our young discovered in the days of revolution when James Madison at 25 drafted the Virginia Constitution, and Alexander Hamilton at 25 led the American attack at the battle of Yorktown, and Thomas Jefferson at 33 wrote the Declaration of Independence.

But when prosperity, not adversity, is the anvil of experience, how do the young shape their ideals? Is the possibility of even more personal comfort the only exciting lure to their commitment? Is the right to demonstrate all a society can offer the restless, surging spirit of a generation that asks where the action is?

What about the youth who live in our ghettoes--born, as Thomas Wolfe said, "old and stale and dull and empty . . . suckled on darkness, and weaned on violence and noise"? Are they to believe that America is completed, or that they have no part in its unfinished business?

To hunger for use, and to go unused, is the worst hunger the young can endure. A father passed along to me recently the lament of his teenage son who said: "Daddy, no matter what I do or how hard I try, there is not much chance that I can shape things for better or for worse." He voiced a frustration that the young all feel when their society is stagnant or, as in the case of the very poor and the very forgotten, life is a cul-de-sac without exits.

It is true that few men ever have the power by a single act or in a single lifetime to shape history to any serious degree. Even your Presidents quickly realize that while a single act might destroy the world, no one decision, no one act, can make life suddenly better, or can really turn history around all for the good.

Presidents learn--perhaps sooner than others--that our destiny is fashioned by what all of us do, by the deeds and the desires of each of our citizens, as one tiny drop of water after another ultimately makes a big river.

It is the failure to realize the inseparable obligations that we have to each other that leads some to denounce government as an unnecessary evil, and leads others--especially but not always, the young--to equate the right to dissent with the right to destroy.

While the distance between us personally is great, no matter how close the distance physically, the young follow the suit of their parents who live by the philosophy: "Don't stick your neck out; don't get involved; don't be a fool." From this philosophy comes either willful violence that tears a nation apart or willful indifference that slowly erodes our confidence in one another and slowly erodes our regard for each other.

So I would say to America in this hour: Let us guarantee to our young people more than the right to dissent. Let us give them not only an opportunity to declare against something but let us give them a chance to declare for something.

They seek the chance to be committed and the chance to be uncommon, and a society worthy of their courage will give them a chance to be both.

We must move toward a standard that no man has truly lived who only served himself. Every man and woman and every boy and girl, at some period of life, should have the chance to enter some form of public service. It may be when they are 20 or when they are 60; it may be at home or abroad; it may be on the Federal, State, or local level; it may be full time or voluntary. But whatever or wherever it is, this standard of service will decrease the isolation of men from each other and will increase the deep community of feeling and concern that are the sinews of a large and great democracy's strength.

To move in this direction, I am asking every member of my administration to explore new ways by which our young people can serve their fellow men. I am asking a group of Governors and mayors to meet and study ways in which city, State, and Federal Governments can cooperate in developing a manpower service program that could work at every level of our society.

To the youth of America, I want to say this: "If you seek to be uncommon, if you seek to make a difference, if you seek to serve, then look around you. Your country needs you. Your Nation needs your services.

"Look at yourselves and then look at our need at this very hour for more than 1 million medical and health workers in this Nation. Look at our need for more than a million teachers and school administrators. Look at our need for more than 700,000 welfare and home care workers; look at our need for more than 2 million people to help improve our cities, almost half a million to serve in public protection of our homes and our families and our children.

"Look at the Peace Corps which helps abroad, and at VISTA which helps at home. Look at the Job Corps. When Congress has given us the funds, then we will look at the Teachers Corps which will go into our slums and teach our young people.

"Look at the men who penetrate the oceans and who fly through the air and who wear the Green Beret and who make it possible for you to dissent and who give you the liberty and freedom that you so freely exercise.

"Look in your own neighborhood--at the old who can be read to and the young who need attention with Head Start while their mothers work. Look at the recreation grounds that need supervisors, the agencies that need volunteers, and the parks that need attendants.

"Yes, instead of looking at yourselves, look all around you. The sign of your time is need. For while America has not ceased to be the land of opportunity to succeed, it has also become the land of opportunity to serve."

Once, the ancient world accepted the idea that the individual was unimportant to the state; most men were slaves and vassals. That has changed as the idea has increased of the individual's freedom in a society which he serves of his own free will. That is our way today. And that is the challenge of your generation.

It is to go beyond individualism without uprooting the individual. It is to build vital communities and neighborhoods in which men live not by bread alone, but by a shared sense of responsibility to one another in freedom and security.

Now there is a place beyond which no government can ever reach. At that place we must count on our teachers and neighbors and families and friends. What happens at that place is going to depend upon private citizens serving the public interest by trying to understand each other and by trying to help each other.

History will ask of this generation what history asks of every generation: How large was its vision? How clear was its purpose? How genuine was its motivation?

I believe I know what the verdict will be. For I hope that the spirit of service--service to humankind, service to our fellow man-is in our hearts and is abroad in our land.

I saw it last week in the letter sent to his father by a young 20-year-old boy who had volunteered to go to Vietnam. This is what he wrote: "I had my apartment in San Francisco, a beautiful, fine girl, a good job; I had it made. Well, I finally got my orders and my stomach fell out of me. I can't ever remember being so frightened, but the plain fact is that I have to go--because I want to go."

Note: The President spoke at 5:08 p.m. at the Montgomery County Fair in Dayton, Ohio. During his remarks he referred to Representative Rodney M. Love, Mayor Dave Hall of Dayton, Senator Frank Lausche, Virgil Musser, national president of the Young Democrats of America, and Frazier Reams, Jr., Democratic candidate for Governor, all of Ohio. The President also referred to James Suffridge, national president, Retail Clerks International Association, Walter Reuther, president, United Automobile Workers of America, Joseph Keenan, international secretary, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Michael Liskany, secretary, Dayton Building Construction Trades Council, Goldie V. Scheible, secretary-manager of Montgomery County (Ohio) Agriculture Society, and Conrad Grimes, president of the Miami Valley Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks in Dayton at the Montgomery County Fair Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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