Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Groundbreaking Ceremony for an Industrial Site in Pryor, Oklahoma

August 26, 1966

Congressman Edmondson, Senator Monroney, Senator Harris, members of the very able Oklahoma delegation, distinguished honored guests from Washington and Oklahoma, and ladies and gentlemen:

I am so happy that I could come by here this evening and see you before I go home tonight to spend my birthday tomorrow.

I have spent a large part of my life talking, planning, and working for the State of Oklahoma with the leaders of Oklahoma.

I left Washington this morning and went to Idaho and made several stops in that State. Then we went to Colorado this afternoon and made several stops in that State. And I had thought it would be all right if I came by here and ate supper with you before I went home. I never did plan to spend the night. I don't know where the Governor might have gotten the idea that I was going to be on his hands for a long time. Now I want to keep this record straight. I want the Governor of Oklahoma to know that he is welcome in Washington any time-before November or after November.

I plan to send him a telegram to that effect tonight. And to keep it strictly nonpolitical, I am going to send it c.o.d.

Lady Bird told me--said, "I am going to have the surprise of your life for your birthday tomorrow." And Ed Edmondson said, "We appreciate your coming to Pryor so much, and what you have done for Pryor already, that we are going to give you the greatest surprise you have ever had for a birthday." And then they showed up with the Governor's telegram--and that was a surprise!

I remember so many, many hours that I spent with your great leader, Bob Kerr, talking about the future of your people, the people that he loved so much, and your State.

Mike Monroney and I entered the Congress only a year apart back in the 1930's and we have worked together very closely ever since.

When Lady Bird leaves town and I have no place to go, and I feel a little lonely-and one of my daughters gets married and the other one is in Hollywood--I call up Mike or Mary Ellen and say, "Is it all right if I come on out for supper?" And then I slip out from the Secret Service and go out and spend a quiet evening--in the way I enjoy most--talking to my friends from my neighboring State. It never occurred to me for a moment that you might not want me to come down here.

Fred Harris is a great Senator. I saw him when he was running for the Senate. When he got to Washington he hit the ground running. He has been running ever since. He is one of the few freshmen Senators to ever come into the Senate and become chairman of a subcommittee the day he got there. He is an Oklahoma statesman in the image of Bob Kerr and Mike Monroney. And you are going to hear plenty from him in the years to come.

I served in the House of Representatives for a long time and I served with a good many men, I expect more than 2,500 in the House and the Senate, in the 35 years that I have been there. I always thought Mr. Rayburn was the best man I ever served with in the House and I guess he was. He served there 50 years and he had to get elected every 2 years for 25 separate elections.

But if there is another man that even comes close to Mr. Rayburn, it is his neighbor, Carl Albert, who succeeded him as majority leader. He is a good man. He is an able man, he is a wise man, he is a tough little fellow, but he is all wool and a yard wide. And that's all I know to say about him !

Now, Ed Edmondson got me to come here. It has already cost us a good deal. I don't know how much more I am going to have to pay after this introduction tonight, but he is quoting what I said the last time I was in Oklahoma. I know that 10 percent of all the money the Federal Government is spending on public works this year is being spent on the Arkansas River. And it looks like Ed has some other ideas in mind.

He has been a key figure in the development of one of the greatest river developments in the entire world. He has been a key figure in Indian affairs legislation. He has been a key figure, along with another good friend of mine, in the beautification field. And except for Ed Edmondson, a great deal of the beauty of this land that we saw today in Idaho and Colorado, and this evening in Tulsa, and here tonight in Pryor, wouldn't have been possible. So, I am so thrilled that we have a chance to come to his district and to say to you people that he is just as good as they come.

He is respected. He works hard. He covers the ground he stands on. And he is welcome in the White House day or night-before or after November, political or nonpolitical.

I am glad that Page Belcher came down here with us. He is from Enid. He represents the First District. He has done that for 16 years with a good record on the Agricultural Committee.

My old friend, Tom Steed, of Shawnee, came along with us today. He has worked hand-in-glove with me through the years. He does an excellent job as chairman of the subcommittee on U.S. Capitol appropriations and has been very valuable as assistant to the President.

John Jarman, of Oklahoma City, has served the Fifth District continuously since 1950 and is the fourth ranking member of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee.

Jed Johnson is the youngest Member of the House of Representatives, 26 years of age, freshly married, going strong, making a fine record. I knew his father ahead of him and he was a good Congressman. I think Jed is going to be just as good. And that is saying a lot, Jed.

You have a good many people serving in Washington: Mr. Owens from your State on the Securities and Exchange Commission; Mr. Jim Webb, the Administrator of the Space Agency; Mr. Leverett Edwards, Chairman of the National Mediation Board.

All of these men are serving your State and serving our country faithfully, but the one that I am particularly fond of, because I see him about 18 hours a day, is this young man, Jim Jones, who is on my White House staff and sits right outside my door and tells me all day long I am running late. I am going to introduce him now before he comes up and pulls my coattail and tells me to stop.

I want to talk to you just a few moments about partnership--partnership between Federal resources and local action.

Now I know that is nothing new to Oklahoma. You have been engaged in that kind of partnership for a long time. You saw it when we built a new library over at Tulsa. You saw it when we built a new hospital at Edmond under the Hill-Burton Act. You saw it when the Federal Government built the new interstate highway across Oklahoma from the east to the west and from the north to the south.

You are going to see it pretty soon when the barges and the towboats make their way up the Mississippi to the Arkansas to Pine Bluff, Little Rock, Fort Smith, Muskogee, and on to the port of Catoosa near Tulsa, not very far from this spot.

We look to the day when thousands of your people are going to be working here in the industries along this great navigation channel. We look to the day when six great reservoirs in the project will be generating a combined power output of more than half a million kilowatts, providing more and cheaper electricity for the homes and the industries.

We look to the day when there will be a new market, a new day for Oklahoma's mineral resources, and a cheaper cost for moving farm products out of Oklahoma and moving raw materials into Oklahoma.

This Arkansas River project, like the Oklahoma Ordnance Works Authority project, is an example of what partnership can do. They symbolize what is going on in the United States today at every level of the government.

We have tonight with us two great Governors, Governor John Connally of Texas, Governor Jack Campbell of New Mexico. They are here to meet Governor Farris Bryant. We are talking with the Governors of these States about the problems of these States to make these States bigger, better, wealthier, to make better use of their material and human resources.

We are entering a new day of relations between government and private institutions and individual citizens. This new federalism--this new day of cooperation-is not fully understood. But the problems are apparent.

A great society is not going to be built in this country by Lyndon Johnson. It is not going to be built in Washington, D.C. And with all due respect to your leaders on this platform tonight, they are not going to build it, either, although they are going to help.

A great nation is the sum total of all the people, people like you, in towns like Pryor, in cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City--in 50 States of this Union. East and west, north and south, America is being shaped tonight; our destiny is being forged by the people like you and what you do.

That is why I have traveled today all through Idaho and through Colorado and now through Oklahoma. And I know that while America has come a long way, the best is yet to come.

Someone has said that we are living in the age of machines. We have machines for almost every purpose you can think of. They will even brush your teeth, they will even shine your shoes. But machines cannot tell us the answer to the profound question that we must answer in our lifetime. You may have heard of the latest computer that was developed for our Armed Forces to which the anxious question was put one time by a top general. The question was this: "Will there be peace or war in our time?"

The wheels whirred, the lights flashed, the machine ground out the answer, "Yes."

The general was upset. He quickly fed back the question, "Yes, what?"

And the answer came, "Yes, sir."

Well, questions of war and peace and questions of man's deepest hopes are not going to be answered by these machines. They are going to be answered by the people of our land, people like you and me working together, people who love their country.

A lot of people are asking tonight, "Why are we in Vietnam?" That question is no question that anyone can answer. No machine certainly can answer it. People have a right to ask it. Their sons and their brothers and their fathers are dying out there. Others are suffering wounds that they will carry the rest of their lives. And the cost of war is in the billions. You ought to ask the question "Why?"

Yesterday in Washington, President Eisenhower told me a story while we were eating lunch in the White House Mansion. He said he was sitting in a jeep with a young Army captain out in the mountains of Tunisia during the earliest days of the African campaign, when he was our Commander.

The young man suddenly broke off the course of the conversation and said, "General, tell me, what in the devil are we doing here anyway? Why are we fighting this crazy war?"

President Eisenhower said he thought for a minute, then he looked at this young Army captain from a rural area in the United States and he replied, "Captain, because if we didn't, someone like us would have to fight it for us someday."

And most of us don't like to have somebody else do our fighting for us.

I know there are many reasons why what we are doing in Vietnam is important. We have a treaty there that we must honor. We signed a contract that we must observe. We want to protect this little nation, South Vietnam, from being gobbled up by the Communists. And we need to prevent disorder in Vietnam from spilling over into all of Asia.

But those answers, as valid as they are, do not really adequately tell a mother or a wife why her son or why her husband has gone and given his life on the soil of Vietnam. It is the answer General Eisenhower gave that young captain, I think, that sheds light on the conflict in Vietnam tonight. If we didn't, someone like us would have to fight for us some other day closer to home or maybe here at home, itself.

That is true as long as some men in this world refuse to live in peace. That is true as long as they try to make might right. That is true as long as they try by force to take over little countries, small countries. That is true as long as violence is their way of imposing their will on others.

Someone is going to have to convince them they are wrong. And if we don't--the next generation will. I do not know that if we win in Vietnam there will never be another Communist effort to gobble up another free country. But I do know that if we fail in Vietnam, they will have a good precedent for trying to gobble up a lot more territory.

They will be encouraged to take advantage of every unrest wherever it occurs. They will be spurred in the use of their guerrilla warfare as a way to conquer what they could not conquer by open invasion.

Aggression is never satisfied until it is stopped. Nice words and solemn warnings of rhetoric won't stop an aggressor or a guerrilla or a Communist. So we are in Vietnam tonight. Our men are out there fighting because, as General Eisenhower said, we hope others after us will not have to do our fighting for us.

For the great sweep of coast that is Vietnam, with one of the greatest food-producing areas in all the world, for it to fall to aggression would mean that somewhere else someone else might have to fight. Whether it would be in the green jungles of Thailand, on the peaks of the Himalayas, or on the Straits of Borneo, I cannot tell you.

But this I do know: That, too, would be costly. And it would be long and it would be hard.

There are no easy options in this modern world in which we live. We cannot choose between war and peace as if they were the only two alternatives. The choice is often between a certain kind of war now or a more dangerous kind of war later. The choice is often between an uneasy peace in most of the world while one part of the world is the center of conflict or a peace that is broken on many fronts.

So, my friends of Oklahoma, your President, your country--all 50 States, more than 300,000 of our finest young men--have taken our stand and we have done so because we believe we had to, because we believe we must. One day it is going to be over. Someday those boys are going to come marching home. Until then, I ask on behalf of them, for all of them, all of our men in Vietnam, I ask you to give them all you can give them. Give them your hopes, give them your prayers, give them your support, give them your confidence. That is the Oklahoma way. I know you won't let us down.

Note: The President spoke at 8:55 p.m. at groundbreaking ceremonies for a new water and sewer system funded by an Economic Development Administration grant and loan. In his opening words he referred to Representative Ed Edmondson, Senator A. S. Mike Monroney, and Senator Fred R. Harris, all of Oklahoma. During his remarks he referred to, among others, Henry Bellmon, Governor of Oklahoma, Robert S. Kerr, Senator from Oklahoma 1949-1963, Sam Rayburn, Representative from Texas 1913-1961, who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives 1940-1947, 1949-1953, 1955-1961, Representative Carl Albert of Oklahoma, majority leader of the House of Representatives, Hugh F. Owens, Commissioner, Securities and Exchange Commission, Lt. James R. Jones of the White House staff, and Farris Bryant, Director, Office of Emergency Planning and former Governor of Florida.

The Mid-America Industrial Site was formerly an ordnance plant which was declared surplus by the Federal Government and purchased by the State of Oklahoma in 1961.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Groundbreaking Ceremony for an Industrial Site in Pryor, Oklahoma Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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