Remarks at the Funeral Service for Admiral Arleigh A. Burke in Annapolis, Maryland
Vice Admiral Metcalf, we thank you for your remarks and for your service. Admiral Owens, Admiral Boorda, Admiral Larson, Secretary Dalton, Deputy Secretary White, Senator Lugar, Senator Chafee, Mr. Perot, Mr. Justice White, to the members of the diplomatic corps who are here, representatives of the four services, all those who served with Arleigh Burke, Dr. Ward, and most especially Mrs. Burke.
We gather today to honor the life of one of the Navy's finest sailors and greatest leaders. Every life is a lesson, but his life particularly so, for in 94 years on this Earth, at sea and on land, Arleigh Burke gave nothing less than everything he had for his cherished Navy and his beloved country. Born at the dawn of this century on a hardscrabble farm at the foot of the Colorado Rockies, educated at this great Academy, wed to his wife 72 years ago here in this very chapel, Arleigh Burke stood watch over our freedom for more than four decades.
Late this summer, just before I traveled to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the end of the Second World War, I had the honor of spending an evening with Admiral Burke at the Pentagon. This hero of long nights and long days of the Pacific war gave me his wise counsel—and like so many of my predecessors, I came away far richer for it—in an evening I will never forget.
As a Navy captain in 1943, it was Arleigh Burke who understood the full potential of the Navy's destroyers, its "tin cans." In so doing, he helped turn the tide in freedom's favor— at Empress Augusta Bay, off Cape St. George, and across vast stretches of the South Pacific. During one campaign that spanned 22 separate engagements, Burke and his squadron of Little Beavers, some of whom are here with us today, accomplished astonishingly big feats. They demolished an enemy cruiser, 9 destroyers, a submarine, 9 smaller ships, and downed some 30 aircraft.
Later, while serving under Admiral Marc Mitscher, Arleigh Burke pulled shipmates from the flaming aftermath of kamikaze attacks and helped plan the war's concluding battles at Philippine Sea, Leyte, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. For that extraordinary heroism and grand vision, he earned the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart.
Like all good sailors, Admiral Burke had the ability to see over the horizon. He taught the Navy how to fight at night, attacking with torpedoes as well as guns. As Chief of Naval Operations for those unprecedented three terms, he created the most balanced, versatile fleet in history, one that enabled us to preserve the peace and safeguard our freedom throughout all of the hard days of the cold war. He built nuclear submarines so that our Navy would be as strong below the ocean's surface as it was above it. He armed them with Polaris missiles so we could better deter Soviet attacks. He took from blueprint to shipyard the idea of a fleet propelled by the power of the atom.
The Navy all Americans are so proud of, the Navy that stood up to fascism and stared down communism and advances our values and freedom even today, that Navy is Arleigh Burke's Navy.
Today we mourn the passing of a great American. But his spirit is all around us. We see it in the promise of the young midshipmen who will take on the challenge of living up to his magnificent example. We see it in the fine men of the ship that bears Admiral Burke's name and who will soon man the rails on the road to his gravesite. We see it in all the Arleigh Burke class destroyers that are protecting peace and helping democracy take root from the Persian Gulf to Haiti, to the former Yugoslavia.
These destroyers, each named for a naval hero, a naval leader such as John Paul Jones, John Berry, and just recently, Winston Churchill, are a special class of ships, the class of Arleigh Burke. Admiral Burke was the inspiration for these ships. They were meant to be feared and fast, the very attributes that earned their nickname—their namesake the nickname "31-Knot Burke." And they are both feared and fast. Today, in memory of this destroyerman, I have ordered all the Burke class and Little Beaver squadron ships currently underway to steam at 31 knots for 5 minutes beginning at noon.
Arleigh Burke's life spanned what has come to be called the American century, one in which the American people understood our Nation's special place in the world as a force for freedom and hope and peace. As the new century approaches, it is fair to say that no American did more to act upon that responsibility than Arleigh Burke. The freedoms we cherish, the peace we enjoy were sustained by his vision and his labors. Those freedoms and that peace are his greatest legacy. As long as we remain devoted to them, we will stay faithful to him and to the remarkable generation of Americans he helped to lead.
My fellow Americans, the challenges we face today are new. The foes who oppose us have changed. But the values and the interests we must stand for are the same ones Arleigh Burke dedicated his 18-hour days to preserve, the same freedom and peace and democracy and human dignity.
With Arleigh Burke's passing, we change the watch. A new generation takes the helm. May it find guidance and inspiration in the lessons of his long life so well lived. And may it stay true to the course Admiral Burke set of peace through strength, of freedom through sacrifice, of success through tireless devotion to duty.
Mrs. Burke, you were the Admiral's partner throughout his long and rich life. You blessed him greatly with your love, as his powerful quote on the front of our program so clearly says. In turn, he blessed America with his service.
May God now bless Arleigh Burke in the warm embrace of His eternal love. In the timeless words of the sailor, "Fair winds and following seas."
NOTE: The President spoke at 12:42 p.m. in the Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy. In his remarks, he referred to Vice Adm. Joseph Metcalf III, USN (Ret.); Adm. William A. Owens, USN, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; Adm. J.M. Boorda, USN, Chief of Naval Operations; Adm. Charles Larson, USN, Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy; former Presidential candidate Ross Perot; former Supreme Court Justice Byron White; and Roberta Burke, widow of Admiral Burke, and her godson, Dr. Patrick C. Ward.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Funeral Service for Admiral Arleigh A. Burke in Annapolis, Maryland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/222742