January 21, 1985

Well, good afternoon. I'm told that this is the coldest day in Inauguration history. But looking out at all of you, I somehow feel there's a lot of warmth inside this building.

Who would ever have thought that I'd be the one standing up and talking, while all of you were -- well, almost all of you -- were sitting down and listening. It just goes to show here in Washington things have a way of turning out the opposite of how we intend.

I know you didn't get your chance to salute all of us, but I just want you to know how happy and how important it was for Nancy, myself, and the Vice President and Mrs. Bush to come here to salute all of you.

You know, we and all America were so looking forward to seeing each one of you perform and delight us with your wonderful talents and exuberance. And what a great American family you are. Because whether you come from as far away as Hawaii, California, Texas, Florida, New York or Mississippi, or Washington or Alaska, or -- I'm told the team from Alaska was the only one that came here and really was and could have gone through with the parade because they came with a team of huskies. I can't go on naming all your States, because I know all 50 are represented here, and the territories, and you represent America at its best. And you would have given America the greatest show on Earth.

Now, we were all anticipating the parade. And I was looking forward to every unit. I'd heard about all of you. And particularly, there was one that -- someplace in here, I think, is a band from my home, or the town where I was born, Tampico, Illinois. And with that band was going to be the pompom girls from the high school in Dixon, Illinois, where I graduated.

I want to tell you, I have a little knowledge and understanding of some of your problems. I was the drum major of the Dixon YMCA Boys Band, and I had a brief career, because we were asked to head up the parade in a nearby town on Decoration Day. And I know that everyone was briefed about the parade course and everything, but I had also been told that a fellow on a white horse was going to be out in front, and I figured I'll just follow the man on the white horse. Who can go wrong doing that? And I was going down the street, making with the baton, and pretty soon I thought the music was beginning to sound a little faint. [Laughter] I looked over my shoulder. Everybody had turned the corner. I was going down the wrong street all by myself. [Laughter] I kept right on walking -- right out of a musical career. [Laughter]

Well, we know the tremendous time and personal dedication that each of you put into your preparations -- everything from bake sales to getting church and civic groups to help you raise the money to pay your way, to the long, long hours of rehearsal so that you perform at your very best.

I don't want to forget to mention one other very important group of participants who are here with us, too -- our United States military personnel.

You know, all of them and most of you are about pretty much the same age group. I just want to say something. Back in World War II, General George Marshall was asked by someone what he thought was our secret weapon. And General Marshall said, ``The best damn kids in the world.'' And do you know something? If he were here today, he could say the same thing, because you are.

Our military, led by Paul Miller, the director of ceremonies and special events for the Military District of Washington; deputy parade chairman, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Frank Turner -- they were a tremendously effective organizational team, and they would have been there to line your parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue.

And let me tell you, I and all of us up here, George and Barbara and Nancy, we were raring to go. I went searching into the closet -- I had a pair of long johns -- I was going to put them on. [Laughter] The last time I wore them was the 1980 primary campaign in New Hampshire.

But it would have been a magical moment to tuck away and cherish with your loved ones during all your later years. But it was not to be. And I just hope you understand that we only made this decision after we were convinced that it was absolutely necessary to protect your own health, as well as the health of the thousands who would be lining the parade to watch you. Believe me, we had professional medical advice in making that decision.

But I pledge one thing to all of you today, and that is to serve with the very best of my abilities and to try, during these next 4 years, to live up to the spirits of unity and pride that you have brought to Washington, because that's what makes America the greatest country on Earth.

There's another thought that I'd like to leave with you, and that is that your trip here, despite the cancellation of the parade, is still very worthwhile and important, because all of us together have been participants in a great miracle of modern history -- the simple, peaceful continuation of power ratifying the sovereignty of we, the people. There has never been a transfer of power by bayonet in America and, God willing, there never will be.

Thomas Jefferson once said: ``How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of and which no other people on Earth enjoy.'' Well, today we can rejoice that more and more people on Earth are moving toward democracy, and we can rejoice that America, a nation still young compared to so many others, is the oldest, most successful republic on Earth.

In 2 years, we will celebrate together the 200th anniversary of our Constitution. And what a day that will be for parades, not only in Washington, DC, but all across our land. So, while we could not go through with today's festivities, we can celebrate in our hearts the continuation of this wonderful experiment in individual liberty and self-government. And we can give thanks that we remain today, as Abraham Lincoln said over a hundred years ago, ``The last, best hope of man on Earth.''

God bless you all. Thank you all again. Have a safe journey home. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:18 p.m. following remarks and an introduction by the First Lady. The audience was mainly composed of high school band members from across the country who had been scheduled to participate in the traditional Inaugural Parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Several of the bands performed while the President and Mrs. Reagan and the Vice President and Mrs. Bush were seated on what was to have been a float in the parade. The parade was canceled due to the extremely cold weather in Washington.