Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at a Memorial Day Service in Arlington National Cemetery

May 30, 1966

Mr. Sutphin, Colond Connett, General Wheder, General Herrick, ladies and gentlemen:

There is a special roll of honor that I would like to call today:

--Lt. Colonel Seldon R. Edner of San Jose, California
--1st Lt. George B. Smith of Los Angeles, California
--1st Lt. Leland Williams of Taylor County, Texas
--1st Lt. Revier Harding of Fort Worth, Texas
--Staff Sergeant William Goodwin of Tacoma, Washington
--Lt. Colonel Alfred Medendorp of Grand Rapids, Michigan
--Lt. Colonel Frank Lynn of Chicago, Illinois
--Major Rudolf Anderson of Del Rio, Texas
--Specialist Fourth Class James T. Davis of Livingston, Tennessee.

Who were these men?

Edner was the first American killed in Greece where, in 1947, we decided to help the people of that country resist aggression.

Smith and Williams were killed in the airlift which prevailed over the blockade of Berlin in the winter of 1948 and 1949.

Harding and Goodwin were the first American soldiers killed in the struggle against aggression in Korea. Medendorp and Lynn were killed on Kinman Island when in 1958 aggression was attempted in the Taiwan Straits.

Anderson was the airman that was shot down over Cuba during the crisis of 1962 when an effort was made to place offensive weapons on that island.

Davis was the first American killed in the resistance to aggression in Vietnam.

These men represent all those Americans who have risked their lives--and lost them-in the peace-building efforts that America has made since 1945.

They were sent on their missions because this Nation believes that peace is not something that just happens.

Peace does not come just because we wish for it.

Peace must be fought for. It must be built stone by stone.

In the first half of this century we learned that there can be no peace if might makes right--if force used by one nation against a weaker nation is ever permitted to succeed. We have learned that the time to stop aggression is when it first begins. And that is one reason we are in South Vietnam today.

Modern weapons and means of communications, even more than common aspirations, have created a single world community.

There is no going back. This is the way it will be as far ahead as any of us can see.

We can only go forward to help make that community one in which nations respect the rights of other nations and live at peace with one another.

For the American interest will be well served if our children grow up in a world of independent nations capable of assuming collective responsibility for the peace. Our interest--and the interest of world peace-will not be served if nations continue to violate the independence of other nations.

So, as our men and our allies today fight in Southeast Asia, we are working on many fronts to build a mosaic of peace and human progress.

We are working to strengthen the Atlantic world and, from that firm base, to build bridges of cooperation to the East.

We are trying to assist the governments and peoples of Latin America, Asia, and Africa to work together to lift the burdens of poverty and ignorance and disease.

We ache to turn all our energies--more of our resources--and all our talents to building that kind of world community.

But there will be no community to build if aggression achieves in Vietnam what it has been denied from Greece to Korea to Berlin.

The conflict in South Vietnam is confusing for many of our people.

The aggression there does not take the form of organized divisions marching brazenly and openly across frontiers.

It takes the form of men and equipment coming down from the North on foot or in trucks, through jungle roads and trails, or on small craft moving silently through the water at night.

It takes the form of well-organized assassination, kidnaping, intimidation of innocent citizens in remote villages. Last year, more than 12,000 South Vietnamese civilians were murdered or kidnaped by terrorists.

That kind of aggression is just as real and just as dangerous for the safety and independence of the people of South Vietnam as was the attack on South Korea in June of 1950.

Without the flow of men and equipment from the North, the war would soon end. But what our people see looks on the surface to some of them more like a civil war than external aggression.

Peace will never come to the world if the outcome of this kind of aggression--insurgency mounted from outside a nation--is accepted as a substitute or tantamount to free elections.

There is a second source of confusion. The people of South Vietnam are now in the midst of a historic transition. They are trying to form, for the first time, a constitutional government that represents their own traditions and values.

Their country has deep in its history strong regional feelings--and equally strong religious groupings--which have sometimes been in conflict.

As they try now to forge a constitutional system these differences seem to emerge sharply. Various groups clash as they seek to influence the shape of things to come. Turmoil results.

It is tragic, in the present turmoil, that some choose acts of desperation to express their political beliefs. This quite unnecessary loss of life only obscures the progress that is being made toward a constitutional government. It only clouds the sacrifices of thousands of lives that have already been made for the cause of independence and political hope in South Vietnam.

Seldom has a people been called upon to build a nation and to wage war against externally supported aggression at the same time. But I believe that South Vietnam is moving toward a government that will increasingly reflect the true will of its people.

That day will come sooner if the South Vietnamese keep their internal quarrels and differences within bounds and concentrate on taking together their first steps toward constitutional government.

But there will be no transition to the politics of compromise and to the secret ballot if the external aggression against South Vietnam is not now defeated.

Our policy is devoted to that end.

As President Kennedy said just 2 months before his life was taken, "We want the war to be won, the Communists to be contained, and the Americans to go home .... "

We have sought to bring the conflict in Vietnam from the battlefield to the conference table. Twice we have stopped the bombings of military targets in North Vietnam as a sign of our desire to negotiate. And we waited and listened for 37 days--to get no satisfactory reply.

We have sought the help of the United Nations in arranging international peace talks.

We have sent emissaries to more than 40 nations asking them to urge our adversaries to reason with us.

We have sent word privately to Hanoi and to Peking of our willingness to talk without conditions.

We have told them that there are ways to end the bloodshed.

Nothing has happened.

Infiltration from the North has continued at an even higher pace. The fighting, as we speak, goes on. The infiltration is stepped up. The hordes come marching in.

So, until peace comes, or the Communists are willing to talk about peace, we must persevere.

I know of no time in our history when our brave men in arms have performed with greater skill or courage than they have performed in Vietnam.

They went into combat in a difficult climate, against a thoroughly professional enemy, in an unfamiliar kind of war. From the first day of combat they have not failed US once.

In Vietnam the United States is committed to a decent and a limited purpose: to defeat aggression and to let the people of Vietnam decide in peace their own political future.

So I pledge to those who have died there, and to those who have been wounded there--to those who are now fighting there, and to those who may yet fight there, that we shall help the people of South Vietnam see this through.

On this Memorial Day, it is right for us to remember the living and the dead for whom the call of their country has meant much pain and sacrifice.

And so today I remind all of my fellow countrymen that a grateful Nation is deeply in their debt.

Note: The President spoke at 11:18 a.m. in the Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. His opening remarks referred to Robert F. Sutphin, President of the Memorial Day Corporation of the Grand Army of the Republic, Lt. Col. James A. Connett, Post Chaplain at Fort Myer, Va., Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Maj. Gen. C. J. Herrick, Commanding General, Military District of Washington.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a Memorial Day Service in Arlington National Cemetery Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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