Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom
The President. When we finish this luncheon, I hope you'll stick around a little while. We're having a tag sale upstairs, and everything must go. [Laughter] But, really, thank you all for coming to be with us here today.
Truly, one of the privileges of this office which I've found greatest joy in exercising has been the opportunity to present our nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. To stand, as I have had the honor of doing, with the recipients of this award has been to stand with the flesh and blood and spirit that is the greatness of America, men and women who have so greatly served our nation and helped keep her free. The contribution of each recipient has been unique and noteworthy, and today is no exception, as we honor two remarkable Americans: Mike Mansfield and George Shultz.
Mike Mansfield has dedicated the entirety of a very long and productive lifetime to public service. He served in both Houses of Congress, spanning seven Presidents, and held the post of Senate majority leader longer than any other person. A former professor of Far Eastern history, he played an important part in shaping America's Asian policy, serving on both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then as our Ambassador to Japan. For a sizable portion of America's history as a nation, Mike Mansfield has been in service to his country.
George Shultz—why did my voice crack just as I got to you— [laughter] —George Shultz has been a marine, an academic, and a businessman, and a public servant. He has held four Cabinet-level posts, distinguishing himself as a Secretary of Labor, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Treasury Secretary, and finally as one of America's great Secretaries of State. Over the last 6 1/2 years, in managing our foreign policy, he has served wisely and met great challenges and great opportunities. George Shultz has helped to make the world a freer and more peaceful place.
And there's nothing so precious and irreplaceable as America's freedom. In a speech I gave 25 years ago, I told a story that I think bears repeating. Two friends of mine were talking to a refugee from Communist Cuba. He had escaped from Castro, and as he told the story of his horrible experiences, one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are." And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to."
Well, no, America's freedom does not belong to just one nation. We're custodians of freedom for the world. In Philadelphia, two centuries ago, James Allen wrote in his diary that "If we fail, liberty no longer continues an inhabitant of this globe." Well, we didn't fail. And still, we must not fail. For freedom is not the property of one generation; it's the obligation of this and every generation. It's our duty to protect it and expand it and pass it undiminished to those still unborn.
Now, tomorrow is a special day for me. I'm going to receive my gold watch. And since this is the last speech that I will give as President, I think it's fitting to leave one final thought, an observation about a country which I love. It was stated best in a letter I received not long ago. A man wrote me and said: "You can go to live in France, but you cannot become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Turkey or Japan, but you cannot become a German, a Turk, or a Japanese. But anyone, from any corner of the Earth, can come to live in America and become an American."
Yes, the torch of Lady Liberty symbolizes our freedom and represents our heritage, the compact with our parents, our grandparents, and our ancestors. It is that lady who gives us our great and special place in the world. For it's the great life force of each generation of new Americans that guarantees that America's triumph shall continue unsurpassed into the next century and beyond. Other countries may seek to compete with us; but in one vital area, as a beacon of freedom and opportunity that draws the people of the world, no country on Earth comes close.
This, I believe, is one of the most important sources of America's greatness. We lead the world because, unique among nations, we draw our people—our strength-from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation. While other countries cling to the stale past, here in America we breathe life into dreams. We create the future, and the world follows us into tomorrow. Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we're a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge, always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.
A number of years ago, an American student traveling in Europe took an East German ship across the Baltic Sea. One of the ship's crewmembers from East Germany, a man in his sixties, struck up a conversation with the American student. After a while the student asked the man how he had learned such good English. And the man explained that he had once lived in America. He said that for over a year he had worked as a farmer in Oklahoma and California, that he had planted tomatoes and picked ripe melons. It was, the man said, the happiest time of his life. Well, the student, who had seen the awful conditions behind the Iron Curtain, blurted out the question, "Well, why did you ever leave?" "I had to," he said, "the war ended." The man had been in America as a German prisoner of war.
Now, I don't tell this story to make the case for former POW's. Instead, I tell this story just to remind you of the magical, intoxicating power of America. We may sometimes forget it, but others do not. Even a man from a country at war with the United States, while held here as a prisoner, could fall in love with us. Those who become American citizens love this country even more. And that's why the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door.
It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others. They give more than they receive. They labor and succeed. And often they are entrepreneurs. But their greatest contribution is more than economic, because they understand in a special way how glorious it is to be an American. They renew our pride and gratitude in the United States of America, the greatest, freest nation in the world—the last, best hope of man on Earth.
The Medal of Freedom represents the reverence the American people have for liberty, and it honors the men and women who through their lives do greatest honor to that freedom. The lives of the two men we honor here today tell a story about freedom and all its possibilities and responsibilities, and, well, both those that inhere in each free man and woman and those that fall upon a great and free nation. Our honorees have dedicated their lives to preserving and protecting America's freedom. They have engaged themselves in the larger cause, that of humanity and of the world, to help extend freedom to people of other lands. There is no task more fitting for Americans than that.
So, I will now read the citations for our two very distinguished award recipients and present to them their medals. Perhaps I should mention that our first recipient today—the one who calls me kid— [laughter] —is the son of immigrants, from a country called Ireland.
And now, if Michael Mansfield and George Shultz would please come forward. George, you're due here.
"During World War I, Mike Mansfield, not yet 15, enlisted in the United States Navy, crossing the Atlantic seven times before he was discharged. His service to country would span seven decades and would help shape America's destiny as a Pacific power. Through 34 years in Congress-including 16 as Senate majority leader—and with more than a decade as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Mike Mansfield has set his indelible mark upon American foreign policy and distinguished himself as a dedicated public servant and loyal American."
Ambassador Mansfield. Mr. President, First Lady, Mr. Secretary of State and Mrs. Shultz, Ambassador Matsunaga and Mrs. Matsunaga, my former colleagues from both the House and the Senate, our distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I can't begin to express in words, Mr. President, my deep appreciation for what you've said about me and the encouragement which you've given me in my post as your Ambassador, your personal representative, our country's Ambassador to Japan.
However, I think that much of the credit should go to Maureen, my wife, who down through the years has been such a wonderful helpmate; whose advice, counsel, and understanding I appreciated; who worked harder at any job I've had and received little credit in the process. So, I want to say how much I owe to her, how much I'm indebted to her; how much I appreciate what the President has said—who has laid out a sound policy for our future in the Pacific and East Asia. I appreciate the advice and counsel that George Shultz has given to me from time to time. And I appreciate the fact that, for the first time in memory, that we have both a President of the United States and a Secretary of State who are actively interested in the Pacific, in Japan, and in East Asia. I anticipate that the policies these men have laid down will be continued.
In conclusion, we may recall that Robert Sandburg [Frost], one of our poets, said on a certain occasion, there are things to do, miles to go, and promises to keep before we sleep. Well, Maureen and I have traveled many miles. We have had and still have things to do. And we still have the promises we made over half a century ago when we were joined together. So, to her I want to give special thanks for all that she has been able to do with me. And to the President and Nancy, my thanks, my appreciation for their thoughtfulness and consideration. Thank you very much.
The President. "Unyieldingly dedicated to the protection of the American national interest, the advancement of freedom and human rights, the battle against tyranny, and reductions in nuclear arms, George P. Shultz has presided over the Department of State during one of the most critical periods in the history of this nation's foreign policy. For years of public service and his vital part in inaugurating a new era of hope in foreign policy, his countrymen honor him."
Secretary Shultz. Mr. President, you know, Obie [Helena Shultz] has been traveling a million miles around the world with me. So, it's been a great partnership. But, Mr. President, I feel very special about receiving this award from you, and let me explain why. There's a phrase that's catching on—"the Reagan years." There's a ring to it. And, Mr. President, it is the ring of freedom. You have advocated it, fought for it. You have known that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. You have known this is a matter of principle on which you don't compromise. You have known that there are times when it requires action-sometimes, at least initially, not necessarily popular action—but you have to do it.
You have also known—and I've heard you say many times—that the strength comes from "We the People," that we get our legitimacy and you get your legitimacy as President from the people. And you've never been in any doubt, and none of us have, about who we came here to serve: the American people.
And I see you there with your arm around Nancy. I had the privilege of going with Nancy a couple of months ago to the United Nations where she spoke about drugs. And she had the courage to say that one of the root causes of this worldwide problem is use of drugs in the United States. And we have to say no. So Nancy, too, has been a fighter for freedom—freedom from drugs. And we love you for it and revere you for it, Nancy.
So, all of these things make me especially proud to have served with you, to have been your Secretary of State. And to receive a medal from you called the Medal of Freedom has a significance for my life and Obie's life and my children that we will never forget.
Thank you, Mr. President.
The President. Thank you. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have been privileged to participate in this recognition of the service of these two gentlemen to this great country of ours. I'm glad that all of you could be here. And now my clock tells me that—like the letter I got the first week I was here from the little 11-year-old girl who told me all the things that I had to do and then said, "Now, get over to the Oval Office and go to work." I see I've still got a few more hours of work ahead of me, and we're a little behind schedule. And so, we'll bid you all farewell, and thank you again for all being here and participating.
Note: The President spoke at 1:22 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/253440