Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks at the 22d Annual Convention of the Military Chaplains Association.

May 06, 1954

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I am somewhat embarrassed by the extravagance of the language your presiding officer used to describe certain of my simple convictions and beliefs. I am astonished that this group of public servants--this group of Chaplains--should have found it desirable from their viewpoint to present to me such an award, one that I assure you will be treasured by me and my family.

The last time that I can remember addressing a group of Chaplains was in the Hague. It was the last group that I addressed before I came home from Europe, in the early spring or summer of 1952. I can well remember the subject I took that day, as I had the opportunity, exactly as this one, to go before that body and to bid them welcome to a particular spot for a particular purpose. Then it was all the Chaplains of SHAPE, the great international organization, as you know, designed to preserve the peace in Europe.

Today it is my privilege to extend to you on behalf of the administration a welcome to the Capital City. What I talked about was what I thought was a dereliction of duty on the part of the Chaplains. And I had a--I thought--very definite reason for talking in that way. I thought they were far too modest, far too much like shrinking violets, and were normally hiding their lights behind trees, if not bushels, instead of getting out where they belonged and doing something about things. And we really had quite a nice time before I got away. But I still think that some modicum, at least, of criticism is applicable.

Now, I don't know to what source we trace our faith, its beginnings in our hearts and minds. But it was certainly not difficult for me to build up an intensive religious faith as long as I was as dedicated as I think I am--to a free system of government among people. To me it makes no sense, without a religious foundation. And indeed, our forefathers could not explain the new system they set up in America except by saying our Creator has endowed us with certain basic rights, thereby establishing, as far as this Government was concerned, a divine source for its beginnings.

Now, in its application to the Army, why does an Army fight? Why do people go into the armed services, either voluntarily or in response to the behest of Government? Why do they meet the tests of battle, and do it courageously?

Because there is a certain sense of values that are important to them. They have a cause for which to fight.

Now, if we fail to get that cause in their minds fixed as comprehending the very source of the things for which they are fighting, the whole system that provides them a free home, a free way of life, free education, free expression, all based on a religious foundation--if we don't get that across to them, I say the Army, Navy, Air Force, is not as good as it can be.

Cromwell's men marched into battle singing hymns. They were highly disciplined, and greatly and wildly enthusiastic about the cause for which they fought. Now you may have been a Cavalier instead of a Roundhead in your sympathies, but you do have to admit that that was a most efficient Army, and they sang while they hewed off heads with a sweep of their swords. Now they believed they saw a direct connection between the risking of their lives, and what they were doing and something very deep in their souls.

These things may be basic. You may say, well everybody knows that. Well, everybody doesn't know it. Everybody doesn't stop to think about it. And entirely aside from all of the, let us say, routine--normal duties of the Chaplain, as I see it, our great service is to get over and make sure every individual knows what his country stands for, and therefore what is the basic cause for which he fights.

This need became very real with me in the early days of World War II. I know of no question that I was asked by the private soldier, as I would roam around in the various fronts and along the roadways, through depots--I know of no question that was asked me as often as "Well, General, why are we here?" And particularly if they picked up some paper that showed there was some strike going on in the United States, as there was at that time, as I recall. "Why are we here fighting like this? These people aren't supporting us"--or words to that effect.

To get over to them that they were defending a free way of life, and that that free way of life was imbedded deeply in the religious faith of their fathers--that was the simplest and best answer I could give them.

And I believe it can be done ahead of time, and I don't believe we have to ask our fighting men of any service to go into battle not knowing what he is fighting for.

I conceive that to be a job of the Chaplains, and at least, let us say, you have worked efficiently, but you haven't completed the job--that we know.

Now of course I am honored to appear before such a body. Not only is it a wonderful feeling to come back among the uniforms, I am glad to see your ladies with you. Mostly I don't have that privilege. I seem to address stag dinners mostly--or luncheons. To each of you my felicitations, my best wishes for an enjoyable period here in the Nation's Capital, and a continuation of your work among our armed services to help raise and keep up to the highest possible pitch the morale and the spiritual strength that we so badly need, as we defend freedom against totalitarianism in this world.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at a luncheon meeting at the Sheraton-Park Hotel in Washington. His opening words "Mr. Chairman" referred to Brig. Gen. Henry Darlington, N.Y.N.G. ret, President of the Association. The President was presented with a citation "for emphasizing the spiritual values of our nation."

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks at the 22d Annual Convention of the Military Chaplains Association. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231951

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