Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on Receiving the U.S.S. Intrepid Freedom Award in New York City

May 22, 1996

To tell you the truth, Zack, I thought it was a pretty good speech when you stopped. [Laughter]

Mayor and Mrs. Giuliani and members of your family—and I especially want to acknowledge the fact that in the Second World War, the mayor's father-in-law served here on the Intrepid and was a Navy man for 25 years. He and his wife are here. Secretary and Mrs. Dalton, Paul Tudor Jones and Max Chapman, Admiral Johnson, Admiral Flanagan, Admiral Williamson; to all the distinguished friends of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum who are here and who share this podium with me; and members of our Armed Forces and our allied forces in Canada, Mexico, and Great Britain. And let me say, as an old musician, I want to especially thank the Royal Marine Band from the United Kingdom. I thought they were quite wonderful. Thank you. There was a time in my life when I had committed to memory almost every important piece of British band music in the last 50 years, and so I am delighted to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

I thank the United States Marine Corps Honor Guard and the Joint Armed Color Team. And I want to thank all of you for being here today and for your support of the Intrepid and your support of our Armed Forces.

I am honored to receive this 1996 Intrepid Freedom Award, especially pleased to receive it in the company of two of the best friends of freedom this country ever had, Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher. And I thank them more than I can say.

Just a little over a year ago, it was my privilege to present Zachary Fisher with the President's Citizens Medal. It was a great honor for me because of all the remarkable things that he has done. Most of you know what the Fishers have done for their extended family, the 2.6 million men and women of our Armed Forces and their loved ones. From the Fisher house program that provides a home away from home to the families of hospitalized military personnel to the Armed Forces Scholarship Foundation that has allowed hundreds of service men and women to attend college, few have done more for those who dedicate their lives to defending our freedom. So we thank them for their shining service to America.

Yesterday in Washington, in our Navy's hour of need, Zachary Fisher was there again. When I escorted Bettie Boorda out into the National Cathedral, he was there to sit beside her during that profoundly moving but difficult memorial service as we celebrated the life of Admiral Mike Boorda.

Mike Boorda will be remembered as the first enlisted man who ever became the Chief of Naval Operations. More than that, I think the men and women of the Navy knew that he was not only once an enlisted man, in his heart he always was. He never forgot that he was their man. I saw it in the tears that they shed yesterday by the hundreds in the cathedral. But if he were here today, he would flash his famous smile and tell a few sea stories and say to us, "This is still the greatest Navy in the world. America needs you to be the best you can be. Carry on."

Because of that spirit of "carry on," he would also be grateful, as I am, for the generosity and devotion that so many of you here today have shown when you have helped to transform this veteran of America's triumph over tyranny into a truly glorious sea-air-space museum. Indeed, I was out there looking at the exhibits, and I was afraid I would miss my entrance. If it hadn't been for "Ruffles and Flourishes," I don't think I would have—[laughter]—I'd still be out there looking at the planes somewhere.

For thousands and thousands of people every day, this wonderful old carrier brings to life our Nation's proud military history. It also reminds us of all of those who came before us, of what they gave and what they lost to keep America free and secure. I know it is our most fervent wish that the young people who come here to visit the Intrepid will never have to face the horrors of war, that instead they'll have the chance to make the most of their freedom and their God-given abilities in peace. But it's good that they learn these tales of duty and devotion because it's up to them to build a future worthy of the sacrifice that we honor here.

Ladies and gentlemen, today I have received this fine award for contributing to the preservation of freedom and democracy. For a citizen of the United States to become President is something no citizen can ever truly deserve. And in that sense, no award flowing from the service of a President can ever be deserved. So if you allow me, I can only accept it with pride on behalf of my fellow Americans and especially those in the armed services and the diplomatic corps who have made our Nation the greatest force for peace and freedom and prosperity and for the citizens who continue to support America's leadership throughout the world.

I was especially grateful for what Mr. Fisher said about that because in the aftermath of the cold war, with so many pressing measures here at home, it would be easy for the United States to turn away from its responsibilities around the world. But citizens like Zachary Fisher and so many of you understand the great lesson of the past 50 years. It is that what we now see as a global trend toward freedom and democracy is neither inevitable nor irreversible. This trend must have America's support. It must have the power of our example. On occasion, it must have the example of our power. Always it must have the leadership of the United States.

Earlier today I had the honor of presiding over the commencement for some of America's newest leaders for freedom, the Coast Guard Academy's class of 1996. I spoke to them about the challenges we face as we enter the 21st century and especially the challenge to advance the fight for peace and freedom.

Nothing will strengthen our security more in the long run than advancing the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world. When people live free and at peace, they are less likely to resort to violence to settle their problems or to abuse the rights of their fellow citizens. They are more likely to join with us to conquer our common challenges, from old threats like ethnic and religious hatreds that are taking on new and dangerous dimensions to new threats like the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, drug trafficking, international organized crime.

I am proud that America has stood with those taking risks for democracy and peace. Because we are, the dictators are gone in Haiti, democracy is back, and the flow of desperate refugees to our shores has ended. Because we are, snipers' killing fields in Bosnia have once again become the children's playing fields. Because we are, the sound of car bombs in Northern Ireland is giving way to the quiet sounds of children living out normal lives. And because we are, in the Middle East, Arabs and Jews who once seemed destined to fight forever, now are sharing their knowledge, their resources, and their dreams.

Just 11 days before he was assassinated last year, my good friend Yitzhak Rabin stood on this very stage to accept this very same award. I thank you for giving it to him. He surely deserved it. And I can't tell you how moved I am to follow in his footsteps.

The first time I met Prime Minister Rabin after I was elected President, I told him that if Israel would take risks for peace, America would do everything in its power to minimize those risks. Well, Israel has, and we have done our part. In a time of shrinking resources, we've kept up our economic assistance. We've worked not just to maintain Israel's security but to enhance it by making sure Israel's qualitative military edge is greater than ever. We've built a bond of trust with Israel and its people that has given it the confidence necessary to make peace.

Now we all know the risks that Prime Minister Rabin took for peace and the price he paid for his vision. We know, too, that with every step along the path to peace in the Middle East, its enemies grow more desperate with bullets and bombs. So let me say again today, in honor of the person who last stood in this place to accept this award and of his friendship to me and the bonds between our people and the peace-loving Arab people of the Middle East: We have supported the peace process. We have kept our commitment to minimize the risks that Israel has taken for peace. But the work is not done.

Hard work remains with Syria, with Lebanon, outstanding questions between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If Israel takes further risks for peace, the United States must be willing to have further measures of support to deal with those risks and minimize them. We have been there every step of the way. If you want to see peace in the Middle East in our lifetime, we must stay there every step of the way.

Ladies and gentlemen, because of the accidents and the design of history, at this particular moment our Nation has more ability than any other to help people throughout the world embrace a future of hope. As I told our cadets today, as I travel on behalf of the United States beyond our borders, I see people who look to us not primarily because of our size and our strength but mostly because of what we stand for and what we stand against. If we continue to make good on their trust, we can build an even greater future of peace and freedom and democracy. And it will be good for the American people.

In the next few years, the way we work with other countries, the work we do, and whether we succeed will determine in very large measure what the world looks like for our children and our grandchildren. We have a chance to leave a legacy of peace and freedom, of liberty and prosperity. We have to know what to do and what not to do. We can't be the world's policeman, but we can't try to build a wall around America's good fortune. That is a destiny we must share with freedom-loving people throughout the world.

So I thank you for this award, not because of anything it says about me but because of everything it says about America. And I will do my best to uphold America's ideals, to keep our Nation free and strong, to keep it a force for peace and progress, to keep it a land of opportunity and tolerance for all.

Thank you very much, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:21 p.m. on the hangar deck. In his remarks, he referred to Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, cofounders of the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum; Mayor Giuliani's wife, Gwen, and her father, Robert Kosnovec; Secretary of the Navy John Dalton's wife, Margaret; Paul Tudor Jones, chairman, Tudor Investment Corp.; and Max Chapman, chairman, Fleet Week '96.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Receiving the U.S.S. Intrepid Freedom Award in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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