Remarks at a Ceremony Honoring an Unknown Serviceman of the Vietnam Conflict

May 25, 1984

An American hero has returned home. God bless him.

We may not know of this man's life, but we know of his character. We may not know his name, but we know his courage. He is the heart, the spirit, and the soul of America.

Today a grateful nation mourns the death of an unknown serviceman of the Vietnam conflict. This young American understood that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. He may not have wanted to be a hero, but there was a need -- in the Iron Triangle, off Yankee Station, at Khe Sanh, over the Red River Valley.

He accepted his mission and did his duty. And his honest patriotism overwhelms us. We understand the meaning of his sacrifice and those of his comrades yet to return.

This American hero may not need us, but surely we need him. In Longfellow's words:

So when a great man dies,

For years beyond our ken,

The light he leaves behind him lies

Upon the paths of men.

We must not be blind to the light that he left behind. Our path must be worthy of his trust. And we must not betray his love of country. It's up to us to protect the proud heritage now in our hands, and to live in peace as bravely as he died in war.

On this day, as we honor our unknown serviceman, we pray to Almighty God for His mercy. And we pray for the wisdom that this hero be America's last unknown.

Note: The President spoke at 3:07 p.m. in the Rotunda at the Capitol.