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Remarks at a Memorial Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

May 31, 1993

Thank you very much. General Powell, General McCaffrey, and my good friend Lew Puller, whom I did not know was coming here today, I thank you so much.

To all of you who are shouting, I have heard you. I ask you now to hear me. I have heard you. Some have suggested that it is wrong for me to be here with you today because I did not agree a quarter of a century ago with the decision made to send the young men and women to battle in Vietnam. Well, so much the better. Here we are celebrating America today. Just as war is freedom's cost, disagreement is freedom's privilege, and we honor it here today. But I ask all of you to remember the words that have been said here today. And I ask you at this monument: Can any American be out of place? And can any Commander in Chief be in any other place but here on this day? I think not.

Many volumes have been written about this war and those complicated times. But the message of this memorial is quite simple: These men and women fought for freedom, brought honor to their communities, loved their country, and died for it. They were known to all of us. There's not a person in this crowd today who did not know someone on this wall. Four of my high school classmates are there. Four who shared with me the joys and trials of childhood and did not live to see the three score and ten years the Scripture says we are entitled to.

Let us continue to disagree, if we must, about the war. But let us not let it divide us as a people any longer. No one has come here today to disagree about the heroism of those whom we honor. But the only way we can really honor their memory is to resolve to live and serve today and tomorrow as best we can and to make America the best that she can be. Surely that is what we owe to all those whose names are etched in this beautiful memorial. As we all resolve to keep the finest military in the world, let us remember some of the lessons that all agree on. If the day should come when our service men and women must again go into combat, let us all resolve they will go with the training, the equipment, the support necessary to win, and most important of all, with a clear mission to win.

Let us do what is necessary to regain control over our destiny as a people here at home, to strengthen our economy and develop the capacities of all of our people, to rebuild our communities and our families where children are raised and character is developed. Let us keep the American dream alive.

Today, let us also renew a pledge to the families whose names are not on this wall because their sons and daughters did not come home. We will do all we can to give you not only the attention you have asked for but the answers you deserve.

Today I have ordered that by Veterans Day we will have declassified all United States Government records related to POW's and MIA's from the Vietnam war, all those records, except for a tiny fraction which could still affect our national security or invade the privacy of their families. As we allow the American public to have access to what our Government knows, we will press harder to find out what other governments know. We are pressing the Vietnamese to provide this accounting not only because it is the central outstanding issue in our relationship with Vietnam but because it is a central commitment made by the American Government to our people, and I intend to keep it.

You heard General Powell quoting President Lincoln: "With malice toward none and charity for all let us bind up the Nation's wounds." Lincoln speaks to us today across the years. Let us resolve to take from this haunting and beautiful memorial a renewed sense of our national unity and purpose, a deepened gratitude for the sacrifice of those whose names we touched and whose memories we revere, and a finer dedication to making America a better place for their children and for our children, too.

Thank you all for coming here today. God bless you, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:07 p.m. at the memorial. In his remarks, he referred to Lewis B. Puller, Jr., Vietnam veteran and Pulitzer prizewinning author.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Memorial Day Ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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