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Remarks at the Dedication of the John C. Stennis Naval Technical Training Center, Meridian, Mississippi.

April 27, 1973

Secretary Richardson, Senator and Mrs. Stennis, all of the very distinguished guests here on the platform, and all of the very distinguished people who are here on this very special occasion:

Senator Stennis has referred to the fact that he has seldom seen a crowd quite this large. I can only say in response to that that I have seen crowds perhaps almost as large as this, some a little larger, but, Senator, I think you and I would agree that never have we appeared before a crowd in which more people were behind us.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, so much has been said on this occasion with regard to Senator Stennis, and also by him with regard to me, that it will appear that this is one of those mutual back-scratching societies, but I want to speak to you a moment, if I can, about this State and about this man and, if I may say so, also about his wife. And what I say about this State and its people and this man, this Senator and his wife, is very closely related.

The Senator and I were referring to the fact, as we flew over the flood-stricken areas of Mississippi today, that this is my second visit to Mississippi since becoming President, and the irony is that on both occasions Mississippi was suffering from a great natural disaster.

I met some of you Mississippians on the occasion of Hurricane Camille when I visited Gulfport very late at night,1 and the Governor, Governor Waller, presented a painting to me in memory of that visit and of the assistance that was rendered not by me, but by our Government, which I was able to approve on that occasion.

1See 1969 volume, Item 358.

But as I went over this country today and looked down at all those flooded fields, I asked Senator Stennis, "What about the farmers? Will they come back, or are they going to desert that country because of these floods that are the worst, I understand, since 1927, and some say even the worst in history?" And Senator Stennis looked me in the eye and he said, "Look, the folks in Mississippi always come back. They don't desert the land."

I recalled then the spirit that I saw in the eyes and faces of those on that night in Gulfport, people there who had been driven out of their homes. The winds had come and destroyed them, and they were living in trailers, or even worse, but I recall that what impressed me about it is that while others may have given up on them, they haven't given up on themselves. And that is why the spirit of the people of this State has always impressed me and impresses me today.

And so it is now--another disaster-but that, too, will pass. And after that natural disaster, the farmers will come back and the businessmen will come back and the workers will come back, and Mississippi will continue to grow and to prosper. It will continue to grow and prosper because the people of this State have the courage, they have what Senator Stennis has suggested is the ability and the will and the desire to tough it out, no matter how difficult it is, and that makes a strong people and a good people. And we are very proud of you, and I say that to you as I speak to you here in Mississippi today.

And now, incidentally, a word about how all of that has to do with Senator Stennis and Mrs. Stennis. It is that character, that strength, that toughness of moral fiber that Senator Stennis stands for and that his wife stands for.

I was at the hospital, I think one of the first outside visitors to go there after he was able to receive visitors after the terrible accident occurred in Washington a few months ago. And I remember, Mrs. Stennis was there and their son was there, the doctor, and the Senator was sitting up in bed. I talked to them a bit and tried to give them some encouragement. I told him then, and I told her, and I told him on several occasions thereafter when I called him about once a week to see how he was doing, I said, "Senator, what counts even more than the doctor, even more than medicine, is you, your will, your spirit, how you feel." And he said, "I am going to make it."

He has made it, and he is back, and thank God he is.

And because this strong man from Mississippi and this strong, wonderful wife of his, who was always by his side, because they stood together, fought together, prayed together, the Nation is very fortunate, because we continue to have his service.

Now a word about that service and what it has meant. Senator Stennis has made some very kind remarks about the leadership of the President of the United States over these past 4 years and particularly the year 1972. Let me, in turn, tell you how it was possible.

There were some hard decisions. There were times when I made those decisions when I felt that I was pretty much alone, at least as far as the city of Washington was concerned. However, out in the country that wasn't the case. And it wasn't also the case as far as Washington itself was concerned, once you talked to people like Senator Stennis, Senator Eastland, Congressman Hebert, the other Congressmen who are here--and there were many in the House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, who stood firm during these crises.

What I am suggesting is this: A President can make a hard decision, but a President is not able to carry out that decision unless, in the final analysis, he has the support of the people. And in this case, whether it was the decision which I thought was essential on May 8 to mine Haiphong and bomb North Vietnam, which triggered the first negotiation, or whether it was the decision, the much more difficult one, at Christmastime to renew the bombing of North Vietnam with B-52's, another very difficult decision, whatever the case was, I understood why many disagreed.

I understood why many did not understand. I understood why many people said, "Get us peace; get it any way you can.

Get out of Vietnam if they will just give our POW's back." And may I say that that was a very attractive argument at times, because I thought about those POW's and their wives, most of whom or many of whom I had spoken before and many of whom I had met, and I wanted them back.

But what made me realize I had made the right decision was when one of them came in to see me a few weeks ago and he said, "The slogan of our POW camp was 'Home With Honor,'" and they are home with honor, and that is what matters.

Why does honor matter? It matters because Senator Stennis has pointed out that the United States, whether we want it or not, has the responsibility to be the leader in the world for peace and freedom. There is no other free nation that has the strength and no other one that has the will, and if we abdicate that responsibility, our children will grow up in a world in which there will be neither peace nor freedom. So that is the choice that we are making now; that is the choice that this center and all the other naval installations and other installations for our national defense are about.

What I am saying very simply is this: In the year 1972 we opened communications with the leaders of one-fourth of the people in the world, the People's Republic of China. In the year 1972 we began negotiations with the Soviet Union and for the first time have an arms limitation agreement in terms of nuclear arms. And in the year 1972, as it ended and came into 1973, we got a peace agreement in Vietnam, one which now must be enforced.

The question now is where do we go from here? And I can tell you that the prospects for peace and freedom are bright, provided the United States stays strong, and provided we meet our responsibilities as a world power. And that is why Senator Stennis' remarks are so significant on this occasion. Let me lay it out very directly to you:

Many people applauded--in fact, the whole world applauded--the arms limitation agreement we negotiated with the Soviet Union last year. My friends, we would never have gotten an agreement with the Soviet Union had not Senator Stennis, Congressman Hebert, Senator Eastland, and a number of other Congressmen and Senators stood firm against those who, before the President went to Moscow, said, "Let's cut our arms down first, and then hope they do."

Don't ever send the President of the United States to negotiate with anybody as the head of the second strongest nation in the world. And I say that not because we want to use our strength against somebody else, but because in the world in which we live you can only negotiate something you want from somebody else if the other individual nation or leader has something that he wants to get from you. And that is why we want to limit arms. We would like to reduce the burden of armaments, but in order to do so, let us do it by mutual agreement. Let not the United States move down first and then trust to the good will and the good intentions of others who may not have the same attitudes that we have toward building a world of peace, and one in which we can all be free--or more free--from the burden of armaments.

I can say finally that the great decisions that have been made in the year 1972, and previously, have been ones that have been difficult, yes. But what has really meant something, a great deal to me, has been the personal association as well as the personal support that I have had from and with John Stennis in that period.

Time after time we have met, we have talked about the tough decisions, the close votes. I have told him that we cannot go to these negotiations in the event that the Senate moved on well-intentioned but, in my view, misguided resolutions that would have reduced our defenses before the negotiations began.

And John Stennis, night after night, went down through those long sessions and stood there holding the fort, fighting for that kind of strong defense because of the conversations we had had, knowing what was on the line, and winning those votes.

I remember one in particular that impressed me. The debate finished at about three in the morning. It was a very close vote. I called the Senator. He had driven home and I reached him at home. And I said, "Senator, I just want to thank you for your leadership, because as a result of your holding the line on that vote, that means that there is now a good possibility we will be able to have a successful negotiation with the Soviet Union on limiting arms, which everybody wants to do."

The Senator said--and this is typical of the greatness and the humility of the man--he said, "Mr. President, I appreciate your calling me and thanking me." And he said, "I am only sorry that we are causing you so much trouble down there in the Senate when you are going to have to go over and do that very important negotiation."

That is John Stennis--not thinking of himself, but thinking of the President. He is a man who does not think of himself first, who does not think of his party first, but who thinks always of America, his country.

My friends, the strength that he stands for, the military strength, the character that he stands for, that strength and that character is what America needs in the days and years and months ahead, this period which can lead to and, in my view, will lead to a new period of peace in the world and eventually, we trust, to a reduction of the burden of armaments which weighs too heavily, not only on our own people but on other peoples around the world.

I see the plaque here. It reads, "John Stennis, United States Senator, State of Mississippi." And then a quote, "A strong national defense is essential to the preservation of our great Nation."

Ladies and gentlemen, a strong national defense is also essential to the preservation of peace in the world--not just the preservation of our great Nation, but the preservation of peace in the world. A strong America is the world's best guarantee of peace, and John Stennis is the man who stands for that strong America.

And may I say with regard to that man, remarks have been made very eloquently by Secretary Richardson as to how he should be described. He can be described as a proud son of Mississippi. He can be described, also, as a very, very proud leader of the United States Senate. He can be described as a great American. But today I go further than that. This man, his leadership, it will be written in history, helped the whole world, not just his State, not just his Nation, but the whole world.

So, if I may add to the dedication, I would say very simply: I dedicate this John C. Stennis Center not just as a military base--it is that--I dedicate this center as a base that is essential in America's great role, our destiny, to build a world of peace.

John Stennis will be remembered not as a man of war, but as a man who was strong enough to help America lead the way to peace.

Note: The President spoke at 11:50 a.m. at the new training center at the naval air station.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Dedication of the John C. Stennis Naval Technical Training Center, Meridian, Mississippi. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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