June 11, 1982
Thank you very much for a most heartwarming welcome. I can't tell you how much Nancy and I appreciate it.
I think I will open with just a little news note. It might not have reached you as yet. I left Washington -- the Senate having passed a budget, the House not having passed it -- and at 11 o'clock last night received the telephone call. The House, too, has passed a budget. And when the two get together in conference, I can guarantee you that while there may be some alterations here and there, basically the budget for the military of the United States will be what is necessary to enable you to do the job you're doing.
And over this last week I've met with Presidents and Prime Ministers, even a Queen, but being with you, the men and women of our Armed Forces, is one of the proudest moments of this entire trip. I'm proud of all of you who are serving in Europe. And I bring you not only my personal gratitude but that of all the folks back home.
We think of you often, and needless to say you're regularly in the hearts and minds of -- of course, your families, your friends, and your sweethearts -- but you're in the hearts of a lot of Americans who don't know you by name. They just know that you are their G.I. Joes and Jills, and they love you, too. And, of course, I must say too here, you, the families who are here with your men, you deserve a special word of thanks and gratitude for what you're doing here in their behalf and thus in the behalf of all of our country. You, too, are serving nobly.
The Constitution says I'm your Commander in Chief. Well, I assure you that not a day goes by that my thoughts don't turn in one way or another to you who man the ramparts of freedom. There are now some 300,000 of you here in Europe, American men and women defending freedom far from home. I know that as one individual out of all those thousands, you may not realize how your day-to-day work fits into the big picture. Well, in the few minutes I have today, I'd like to tell you how you fit into the scheme of history -- why you're here and why each individual's contribution is so important.
I know it's hard to keep your eye on history when the hours are long and you're homesick, and it's very hard to take the long view when your sergeant keeps telling you to move faster and grunt harder. [Laughter] But you're here because you're vital to freedom -- the crowning glory of our civilization. America wouldn't be America without freedom, and we can't keep it without you. It's never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to ensure that it will be there and passed it on to the next.
We need not look very far from this airport to see just how important your service really is. Despite the ever-present threat from the East, our role here has preserved a period of peace longer than any Europe has known in this century. And peace in Europe means peace in America.
At this very moment, the forces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are poised only a few miles from here. They aren't there to protect the people of Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain wasn't woven to keep people out; it's there to keep people in. The most obvious symbol of this is the Berlin Wall. And, you know, if I had a chance I'd like to ask the Soviet leaders one question -- in fact, I may stuff the question in a bottle and throw it over the wall when I go there today. I really want to hear their explanation. Why is that wall there? Why are they so afraid of freedom on this side of the wall? Well, the truth is they're scared to death of it because they know that freedom is catching, and they don't dare leave their people have a taste of it.
The huge number of Soviet tanks that rumble through the countryside, the Soviet missiles that peer over the border, they aren't there for defense. They're there to threaten the West and divide the Alliance. Well, our forces and those of NATO have a different idea. Our forces have a different assignment. We don't seek to make Europe captive. We seek to keep Europe free.
The people of West Germany, through their government, have time and again asked that we stand together in defense of freedom -- both theirs and ours. And President Carstens' recent visit to the U.S. Second Armored Division was symbolic of our unity. Just as the Europeans support your presence here, I, too, as President want to support you by giving you what you need to do your job. I'm determined that you will have fair pay, new equipment, top-notch training, and the best leadership.
America is honored by your service. Your job may sometimes be routine, but, believe me, it isn't. It's part of a noble cause, the defense of freedom and dignity. And you, you in uniform, you are the peacemakers. Because you are doing what you're doing, we have a chance to preserve peace, and I promise you that is going to be the goal as long as this administration is in Washington.
You know, there've been four wars in my lifetime. I don't want to see another. I'm going to tell you a story about one of those wars, only because it tells the difference between two societies, ours and that society the other side of the wall.
It goes back to a war when a B - 17 bomber was flying back across the channel badly shot up by anti-aircraft fire. The ball turret that hung beneath the belly of the plane had taken a hit, was jammed. They couldn't get the ball turret gunner out while they were flying, and he was wounded. And out over the channel the plane started to lose altitude. The skipper ordered bail-out, and as the men started to leave the plane, the boy in the ball turret knew he was being left to go down with the plane. The last man to leave the plane saw the captain sit down on the floor and take his hand, and he said, ``Never mind son, we'll ride it down together.''
The Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded. That citation that I read when I was serving in that same war stuck with me for many years and came back to me just a few years ago when the Soviet Union gave its highest honor, a gold medal, to a man, a Spaniard living in Moscow. But they don't give citations. They don't tell you why; they just give the medal. So, I did some digging to find out why he was their highest honoree. Well, he had spent 8 years in Cuba before going to Moscow. And before that he had spent 23 years in Mexico in prison. He was the man who buried a pickaxe in the head of -- Leon Trotsky's head. They gave their highest honor for murder. We gave our highest honor to a man who had sacrificed his life to comfort a boy who had to die.
I don't know of anything that explains the difference between the society we're trying to preserve and the society we're defending the world against than that particular story.
God bless you all for what you're doing.
Note: The President spoke at 9:58 a.m. at Tempelhof Airport.
Following his remarks, the President went to Checkpoint Charlie, where he viewed the Berlin Wall. He was accompanied by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Berlin Mayor Richard von Weizsacker.