Remarks at Sea on Board the West Virginia en Route to Washington, DC

October 29, 1905

Admiral, Captain, Officers, and Ship's Company of the West Virginia:

It is a privilege for any President to come aboard a squadron of American warships such as these, not alone to see the ships, but to see the men who handle them. From the admiral down through the entire ship's company every American should be proud of what I have seen aboard this ship; the discipline, the ready subordination of each man, whether officer or enlisted man, to duty, the care taken of the men and in return the eager, intelligent, self-respecting zeal of each man in doing his work. What must impress especially any observer is how essential it is that every individual on a ship like this should do his whole duty, and in any crisis more than his duty. The result as I see it in this ship is a triumph not only of organization and discipline, but of the ready zeal with which each individual performs his allotted task. At any time some emergency may arise in which the safety of the entire ship will depend upon the vigilance, intelligence, and cool courage of some one man among you, perhaps an officer, perhaps an enlisted man.

Any man in the whole ship's company who does his full duty can claim as his own the honor and repute of the ship and has a right to feel a personal pride in all she does. You and your fellows in the navy and in its sister service, the army, occupy a position different from that of any other set of men in your country. Going through the ship yesterday, in the engine rooms, storerooms, turrets, everywhere, the thing that impressed me most was the all-importance of each man in his place; the all-importance of the man, both knowing his work and feeling it a matter of keen personal pride to do it as well as it could possibly be done. All through the ship I have seen the same purpose, the purpose to learn exactly what the duty to be done was and then to do it; and the power to do presupposes the possession by each of you of intelligence, courage, and physical address.

I believe that this attitude of yours is typical of the attitude of the men of the navy generally, and of the army also. Now, on the one hand, this should make our country feel toward Uncle Sam's men in the army and in the navy a sense of obligation and gratitude such as they feel toward no others; and on the other hand it should make you feel that no other Americans rest under so great an obligation to do their duty well; for in your hands lie the credit, the honor, and the interest of the entire nation. You are doing your duty well and faithfully in peace. Remember that if ever, which may heaven forbid, war comes, it will depend upon you and those like you, whether the people of this country are to hold their heads even higher or to hang them in shame. I hope that no such crisis shall ever occur, but I have entire faith that if it ever does occur, you will rise to any demand that may be made upon you, and that by the way you train yourselves and are trained in time of peace, you will fit yourselves to do well should war arise.

Now, a special word to the officers. Capt. Arnold, as a boy you witnessed a great fight of the Merrimac, when she came out of Hampton Roads, sunk the Congress and the Cumberland, and the next day met her match in the Monitor. That was a fight fraught with great honor for our people. The Cumberland sank with her flags flying and her guns firing while her decks were awash, and as the water was shallow, her flag still floated from the mast above them after she had gone down. The captain of the Congress met his death in the fight, winning an epitaph which deserves to be remembered forever in the American navy. His name was Joe Smith, and his father, an old naval officer, was in Washington. When word was brought to him that his son's ship had surrendered, he answered simply, "Then Joe is dead." To have earned the right to have his death assumed as a matter of course in such conditions is of itself enough to crown any life, and every American officer should keep ever before him all that is implied therein. Let each of you officers remember, in the event of war, that while a surrender may sometimes be justifiable, yet that surrender must always be explained, while it is never necessary to explain the fact that you don't surrender, no matter what the conditions may be.

A tragedy occurred this morning. A man was lost from the Colorado. Such cases are from time to time inevitable in a service like ours. Under such circumstances, everything must always be done, as in this instance everything was done, for the rescue of the man. But you men are fitted for fighting because you have the fighting edge. This means that you are willing at all times to face death in the performance of your duty. The man who died this morning was an excellent seaman, who had done his duty faithfully, and who died in the performance of that duty. Therefore, he died in the service of his country exactly as much as if he had died in battle, and deserves as much honor.

What I have said so far applies to the whole navy. Now a word especially to this squadron and to this ship. No other nation can boast of a better squadron, a squadron composed of more formidable vessels. In the matter of the officers and men, we have no cause to shrink from comparison with any other nation. So far, the Colorado has been the one ship that has had the chance to show what she could do in gunnery practice, and her record has been so astonishingly good that the other ships of the squadron will have to do their level best if they expect even to equal it. I need not tell you to remember that battles are decided by gun-fire, and that the only shots that count are the shots that hit.

Men, I am glad to have seen you, and I don't think that anywhere under our flag there could be found a better set of clean-cut, vigorous, self-respecting American citizens of the very type that makes one proudest to be an American.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at Sea on Board the West Virginia en Route to Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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