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Remarks at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu

September 02, 1995

Thank you very much, General Wilson, for your outstanding remarks, and even more for your service to our country. Reverend Perkins, Rabbi Goldfarb, Reverend Fujitani, Secretary Brown, General Shalikashvili, Secretary Perry, Members of Congress, Governor, Mayor, representatives of the Allied Nations who are here, and most of all, to the honored veterans of World War II: Today we commemorate this day 50 years ago, when the most destructive conflict in all human history came to an end. On this island, where America's peace was first shattered and then restored, we commemorate the triumph of freedom over tyranny. We remember the extraordinary sacrifice that victory required. We honor the extraordinary generation of Americans who came together to meet the challenge of war and then, as General Wilson has said, worked together to seize the promise of peace.

World War II lasted 2,194 days. It stretched from Pearl Harbor to St. Petersburg, from the beaches of Normandy to the shores of Iwo Jima. It destroyed whole cities. It ravaged countrysides. It cost in total the lives of 55 million people: soldiers killed in battle, civilians and prisoners felled by disease and starvation, children buried in the rubble of bombed buildings, millions wiped out in the gas chambers. It cost the lives of all kinds of people.

And victory was won by the courage and character of citizen soldiers, citizens we remember for their bravery from Britain to Russia, from all the islands in the Pacific, island by island, and the battles that were won.

We remember all these Medal of Honor winners who are here among us today and humbly express to them our profound gratitude. We know that the heroism of millions of other men and women in uniform was never adequately recognized. We know that things happened here in the Pacific which bred a certain spirit and character and determination which infused the lives of those who served us when they came back home.

The war in the Pacific enjoyed the service, among others, of five men who became President of the United States, from the extraordinary heroism of President Kennedy and the legendary PT-109 to President Bush who was shot down and rescued over the Pacific 51 years ago this very day.

We must never forget both the tragedy and the triumph of that time because it holds lessons for all time. We learned in World War II the forces of darkness give no quarter; they must be confronted and defeated. We learned that the blessings of freedom are never easy or free, they must always be defended.

We learned, too, something remarkable about America. This century, marked by so much progress and too much bloodshed, witnessed humanity's capacity for the best and the worst in life, is now known as the American Century.

For America, World War II was the pivot point of that century, the moment when we understood more than at any other time the core of the American spirit, the ties that bind us together, and the duty we owe to one another. Americans found in World War II unity in a shared mission, strength in a common purpose. More than ever, in World War II, our United States were truly united.

On December 7, 1941, James Daniels, the young Navy pilot born and raised on a farm in Missouri, was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. As the ship steamed back toward Pearl Harbor, a general alarm sounded. He ran to his plane. He took to the skies to fly what would be the very first American combat mission of the war, because of what had happened at Pearl Harbor. On that first mission, he searched in vain for the enemy fleet. He said, "I had no briefing, no map. I didn't know what the heck was going on." At nightfall, all he saw were the remains of our sinking fleet.

At that time, things looked pretty bleak for the United States, and a lot of people doubted that our democracy was up to the job. We had a standing Army of less than 200,000 men. Seventeen countries had larger armies than the United States on December 7, 1941. Our soldiers, believe it or not, trained with wooden rifles.

But our enemies sold short the strength and will of the American people, the grocery clerks and farmers, the students and salesmen, the short-order cooks and the factory workers, the whites, the blacks, the Hispanics, the Asian-Americans who served, including Japanese-Americans, the Native Americans, including the famous Navajo code-talkers. Most of them didn't know a lot about each other and even less of the world beyond our borders. But they had a core of shared traits bred in the American bone, determination, optimism, an unshakable dedication to freedom, and a faith that right would prevail. They merged their disparate voices into a harmonious chorus of defiance. President Roosevelt called them the incalculable force of American democracy, a free people united by a common purpose.

At home, they built democracy's arsenal, hundreds of thousands of planes, ships, tanks, and trucks. They planted the victory gardens. They collected scrap metal. They bought the war bonds. They rationed the gas. They learned to do with less in every part of their lives so those in uniform could conduct the war. And abroad, in the rain-drenched jungles and on rocky ridges, under the seas, over the waves, in the clouds, Americans fought on the frontlines of fear.

We know, and others have said today, that tens of thousands lost their lives, leaving their loved ones with only memories: parents who would never again see the pride of their lives, wives who would never again embrace their husbands, children whose fathers would never again take them swimming or see them graduate or know the adults they would become.

Here, in the peace of these sacred grounds where thousands of these brave Americans lie at rest, let us now join briefly in a moment of silence for those who gave their dreams for our freedom.

[At this point, a moment of silence was observed.]


Fifty years ago today, on the deck of the aircraft carrier Missouri in Tokyo Bay, freedom finally prevailed. On this anniversary of V-J Day, we celebrate the end of the war but also the beginning of a new American era of peace and progress. At the end of the war, there were 12 million Americans in uniform, and 7 million were still overseas. We brought them home where they applied the lessons learned in war to the promise of peace. In peace, as in war, they understood that developing and uniting the energy and genius of every American is the best way to fulfill our country's potential.

Before the war, in the darkness of the Great Depression, millions of you veterans who are here today and your family members could only have dreamed of going on to college, could only have dreamed of building a better life than your parents had and of passing an even better one on to your children. But after the war, you seized the opportunities a grateful nation offered. You took advantage of the GI bill of rights. You became graduates. You bought your first home. And we know by the lives you've lived and the hopes you've passed on you took responsibility to make real your American dreams.

From Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, 16 million American women worked assembly lines; 300,000 more wore uniforms, drove trucks in combat zones, trained troops, nursed them back to health. After the war, America would begin to integrate this extraordinary force into the economy and into our Nation's military and change the face of America forever.

From Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, thousands of African-Americans distinguished themselves in military service, as Tuskegee Airmen and Triple Nickel paratroopers, Sherman tank drivers, and Navy Seabees. And slowly, after the war, America would begin to act on a truth so long denied, that if people of different races could serve as brothers abroad in uniform, they could surely live as neighbors at home.

In peace, the World War II generation gave America the security, the prosperity, and the progress the rest of us have known and cherished for half a century. You understood that you could together make the world a better place and that you could not permit America again to withdraw from the world, from former enemies and allies who were in ruins, from the looming threat of the cold war.

You gave us the Marshall plan. You chose reconciliation over revenge and helped to turn former enemies into close allies today. When the terrible new tyranny of communism arose, you held it in check until the power of democracy, the failure of repression, and the heroic determination of people to be free won the cold war. The seeds of democracy you planted and nurtured flower today in every corner of the globe.

From the cliffs of Normandy to the beautiful waters of Hawaii, we have celebrated over the last year and a half the extraordinary achievements of the generation that brought us victory in World War II. It is only fitting that here, in the middle of the ocean whose name means peace, the place where World War II began and ended for America, that we mark the war's end and honor the men and women who saved our world.

We owe it to the World War II generation to remember, but we owe them more. For just as freedom has its price, it also has its purpose, to enable all people to live up to their Godgiven potential and to continue the march of human progress. We, who are the heirs of their legacy, must always be the guardian of their dreams.

It falls now to us to stand against those who sow the seeds of war and to stand with those who take the risks of peace; to create a new prosperity for ourselves and for others; to help our people to prepare for the challenges of a new century; to strengthen our families, our faith, our communities; to give all Americans the opportunity to make the most of their lives.

In order to succeed, we must remain true to the spirit of that brilliant time. A time when our people cared for each other and sacrificed for others, when our Nation stood united in purpose and mighty in spirit as never before, a time when Americans forged the strength of their diversity into a community for victory and progress.

I told you earlier about Jim Daniels, who flew that first flight after Pearl Harbor. After Pearl Harbor, Jim took command of a 37-plane squadron. He logged 55 combat missions in the Pacific. The pilots under his wing came from as many different backgrounds as there are States in the Union, country boys who'd never seen a paved road, city dwellers who couldn't swim, well-to-do's and ne'er-do-well's. The only thing they had in common was that when they started flight school, they all didn't know how to fly. Jim Daniels remembers that, and I quote, "It didn't matter. We had a job to do, and we had to do it together."

On August 15th, 1945, the very last day of World War II, Jim Daniels was in the air again. It was a picture-perfect South Pacific morning. Then the word crackled over the radio: The enemy had surrendered; come on down. And so Jim Daniels, the American who flew on the first day and on the last day of our Nation's war, turned toward home. Today, Jim Daniels and his wife of 55 years, Helen, are here with us today. I'd like to ask them to stand. Mr. and Mrs. Daniels. [Applause] Bless you.

And I would like to ask all the veterans of World War II who are here today to stand and be recognized or to wave and be recognized. Please stand up. [Applause]

On August 15th, 1945, when Jim Daniels brought his plane down he descended through the clouds, along with all the other Americans in uniform, not toward a dark night of uncertainty but toward a bright future of hope, blessed by peace, graced by prosperity, a future in which more Americans than ever before would have the opportunity to live the lives God meant for them to have. It was a future won by a remarkable generation who found unity in war and built us a half century of progress in peace.

Now, my fellow Americans, we stand at the dawn of a new century, and their challenge has become ours. Their spirit must be ours as well. We pledge to carry on their work. And we vow to remember Jim Daniels' words, "We have a job to do, and we have to do it together." For us, as for them, the future depends upon it.

May God bless the Americans who brought us to this day, and may God bless America. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:21 a.m. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Lewis H. Wilson, USMC (Ret.), former Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps; and Rev. Kenneth D. Perkins, Rabbi Morris Goldfarb, and Rev. Yoshiaki Fujitani, who gave the invocations.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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