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Remarks on the Anniversary of the Aircraft Tragedy in Croatia

April 03, 1997

Thank you very much. Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Gore, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Ambassador, to all the members of the Cabinet and the administration who are here, all of our distinguished guests from Croatia, including the wonderful musicians, members of the diplomatic corps, Mrs. Brown, members of the Brown family, and all of you who come here as family and friends.

A year ago, when so many of us gathered in grief at that airplane hangar at the Dover Air Force Base, it was one of the longest days of my life. And yet I can only imagine how much worse it was for so many of you. Well, now it's another April and another springtime. The dogwood tree we planted on the South Lawn of the White House last year in memory of your loved ones has grown a whole foot taller, and soon it will bloom. And so we gather here today, going on in celebration but clearly not free of sadness—grateful for the lives of those who were lost, yes, mindful of our obligation to them to live on as they would want us to live, but still a little sad.

I was searching all of you today, remembering those of you whom I saw a year ago, wondering what had been most difficult for you in the last year and what you missed and how once the moment of tragedy passes, the little things become so important. It's springtime, and I can't go play golf with Ron Brown. We will never shoot baskets again, and he's not here making fun of me because I had that stupid accident with my leg. And I miss that. I miss seeing the smiles of those young people that worked here at the Commerce Department, who believed in this country and were totally unjaded by the cynical veneer that grips too many people. I miss that. I see the children out here and the spouses, and I wonder of all those little things that you miss.

But I can say, we should be heartened by the missing because the people we lost enriched our lives with their gifts of love, with their gifts of talent. As the Vice President said, they greatly enriched our country through their patriotism and their service. And they certainly enriched the world through their sacrifice for the cause of peace. As Secretary Daley indicated, they have inspired those who are left behind in this Department to continue on.

When Ron Brown became Secretary of Commerce, he revolutionized the role of the Commerce Department in our lives, going from rhetoric to reality. And every person, public and private and citizen alike who was a part of that should feel proud of what happened. He made our passion for trade a force not only in our economic life but in our foreign policy. He identified not only those 10 great emerging economies that we all ought to visit and work with and build bridges to but, as a distinguished American columnist noted just a couple of days ago, even in places where crises had not passed, he sought to bring the benefits of American ingenuity and entrepreneurialism and to prove that you could do good and do well at the same time, whether it was in South Africa or Northern Ireland or the Middle East, where I note that when Mr. Arafat was here just a few days ago, he took some time out to celebrate the opening of a business development center in Gaza named after Ron Brown. They thought our trade missions were pretty great, and they thought the people that went on them were pretty great.

And of course, the Balkans. Every person on that plane shared a common vision: They all loved America, they all believed in America's mission in the world, and they certainly believed in America's mission to the Balkans. The dream for which they gave their lives is now slowly and surely being realized by people who have, too, lost a very great deal. In a country where almost every family, every springtime, can remember the terrible pain that so many of you now feel, the divided families have been reunited; marketplaces are full of life, not death; the lights are on; the water runs; homes and businesses are being restored; playgrounds belong to children again.

So a year later, with your dogwood growing and people in the Balkans returning to a more normal life, I cannot ask you to give up your pain, but I can ask you to celebrate the lives of those who died on that mountain a year ago, to celebrate them in all the ways we do, through personal tributes paid by families and communities.

The Commerce Department has set up a scholarship fund to help the children of Commerce employees. There is a high school in White Plains, New York, named in honor of Lee Jackson. A scholarship has been established for Christina Kaminski, the 13-year-old daughter of Stephen Kaminski. The William E. Morton Library opened last fall at the Geneva Kent Elementary School in West Virginia. The Monterey Bay Export Assistance Center was dedicated to young Adam Darling. The Naomi Poling Warbasse Memorial Fund was established at George Washington University by her family and friends. The University of Wisconsin has established a Charles F. Meissner Memorial Scholarship for students from the Washington, DC, area. The New York Times has established the Nathaniel Nash Memorial Foundation to support children's education. A New Jersey church and YMCA has teamed to create the Walter Murphy Memorial Fund. Riggs National Bank has set up a worldwide scholarship for the Buckley School in New York in honor of Paul Cushman. And of course, the Ronald Brown Foundation was established by Ron's family as a means of carrying on his vision of a more compassionate, cooperative, and just world.

And these are not all the tributes which have come in honor of those whom we lost. We also can celebrate our loved ones by knowing that the mission of peace and reconstruction they undertook in Bosnia and Croatia is being carried on. When they fell, so many of you here, even those of you who had experienced painful personal losses, took up a fallen standard. Today, with the great outpouring of reconstruction aid from around the world, with dozens of American companies working to restore the currents of commerce, with the Department of Commerce preparing to open the door of its new office in Zagreb next week, the habits of peace are taking on. And that's something to celebrate.

Above all, we can celebrate them by striving to live our lives in a way that honors their lives. Whether we're in Government or in our military, in journalism or business, let us resolve to serve. When we see a child in need, a community in distress, a nation struggling to be free, let us resolve to act. Let us resolve to learn from this tragedy and work, as so many of you have done, to make our airplanes and our airports and air travel safer. Let us resolve to honor those business leaders who perished by celebrating the best of American business and saying, yes, it can be a good and noble thing, and we should work to expand its reach.

Earlier today, the Conference Board and our administration announced that we are creating the Ronald H. Brown Award for Corporate Leadership. Each year that award will honor America's finest corporate citizens, those who do well and do good by serving.

Above all, let us resolve always to shine a light of hope and freedom in the darkness, for the people we lost a year ago did not die on a distant mountain because they did not care or did not believe in the possibility of tomorrow being better than today. And if we owe them anything at all, we owe them our best efforts to make tomorrow better than today and to spread hope among our people and throughout the world.

Tomorrow will be 29 years since Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis. When you think of your loved ones, remember him and what he said: "All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood." The people we celebrate today gave their lives building that worldwide brotherhood. For the men and women, the boys and girls alive all over the world, and those yet to come, it is up to us to celebrate them by continuing that noble work.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:04 p.m. at the Commerce Department. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa and Ambassador to the United States Miomir Zuzul of Croatia; and Alma Brown, widow of former Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Anniversary of the Aircraft Tragedy in Croatia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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