Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Winners of a Contest Sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

June 09, 1965

Mr. Ellis, and my young friends:

I just had the pleasure of receiving a report from the distinguished Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars--Comdr. John Jenkins, who has just returned from Viet-Nam where he has visited with hundreds of our young men who are out there defending freedom in order that we may have liberty in the world. I want to present to you briefly, Commander Jenkins.

I am very proud to welcome to the White House today this wonderful group of allowance spending, chaperone managed, free, private young Americans.

Clyde Ellis gives me credit for originating the program that brings you here because back in 1957 I had a suggestion along that line. I am very proud of the program and of you. But when I made that first suggestion back there 8 years ago, I had no idea whatever that Clyde would show up here some afternoon around dinnertime with 700 guests.

But having you come this afternoon has much meaning for me. Over the years of my public career, no other domestic activity has been closer to my heart than the program which has lighted the homes and the lives of rural America--and that is our program of rural electric cooperatives.

The contribution that rural electrification has made to our Nation's strength and success can never be measured adequately and, now, we see its finest result in the talent, and the intelligence, and the enthusiasm of you young men and women who have so much to offer our country.

In a very real sense, the REA program of the last 30 years is symbolic of the purpose that is always first in the hearts of Americans. Wherever men live in darkness, wherever there is an unbroken night of despair, and fear, and oppression, we of this great country want only to put our hands with theirs to turn on the lights and let brightness shine in a peaceful world. And you of this group are here in Washington today to study the operations of this great system.

It is valuable and it is important for Americans, young and old, to understand their system better in order that many people can benefit from it. And I hope that all of you will keep in mind all of your lives that what America is, rests really and finally not upon its system but on its soul.

As Macaulay once said: "It is the spirit that we are of and not the machinery we employ which binds us together." And I am greatly heartened by the spirit that binds us together in America.

When I came into this office many of the issues on my desk as President were very nearly the same issues that had been on my desk when I arrived in Washington 34 years earlier as a Congressman--civil fights, education, medical care for the aged, improvement of our cities, housing, farm incentives. All these, and more, were issues that are twice your age, some were even older than your parents, and some of them had been around here as long as your grandparents.

A nation such as ours cannot be true to itself, and cannot be true to its youth, if it fails to face up to the demands of duty. But that is what we are doing today. That is what we are doing now. That is what we are doing at home. And that is what we are doing out in the world.

Duty is a very demanding word. It is never easy. It is not always clear. But it is always inevitable. When duty makes its call upon us there is no escaping judgment, whether we act or whether we fail to act.

I believe the young people of America want to be a part of a society that meets its duty, and that never fails its duty.

Your generation is showing this spirit in all that you do. Out in the world, nearly 10,000 of your contemporaries are now serving in 46 countries as members of the Peace Corps. Here at home, you are responding to the call and opportunity of your Nation's efforts to help the poor, to give the less fortunate young people a better chance, to assure the children of poor families a head start in school. In the Neighborhood Youth Corps there are 90,000 youths at work already in 350 communities. Thousands more have stepped forward as Volunteers in Service to America--as part of the VISTA program--to help the needy, to help the poor. Still more are participating in helping 530,000 preschool children from impoverished homes, helping them to prepare themselves for school this fall.

We started the Job Corps with only 10,000 places to be filled, and 250,000 young Americans have already applied for those places.

So, you are a part of what I like to call "The Volunteer Generation." You have talents and abilities that are far beyond your parents at the same age, and you want to put them into service of your fellow man. And I am proud of you and I am grateful to the country that we have such a generation as you.

This country has no war that we want to fight, but the war on war itself. And in other times other generations have been called to fight for what we believe on the battle fields of war. But it is our hope, and it is our prayer, and it is our determination, that your generation shall have a chance to fight the wars of peace, the wars of poverty, the wars of disease, the wars of ignorance and injustice, and on bias and on prejudice and on bigotry.

I have the highest confidence that you will, by your hands and your hearts, turn on many lights at home and in the world, to make this a brighter world for your fellow man.

And to Congressman Ellis, and others who have contributed so much to so many in bringing you here, I say, thank you, and well done,

Note: The President spoke at 5:40 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Clyde T. Ellis, Executive Manager, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and United States Representative from Arkansas 1939-1943. Later he referred to John Jenkins, Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.

The group was composed of more than 600 rural high school students who won the trip on the basis of essays written on the topic "Rural Electrification--Good for All Americans." The essay contest was sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives of 19 States.

See also Item 357.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Winners of a Contest Sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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