Rede an die American Legion

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Rede vor Mitgliedern der American Legion

(Washington, D.C., 01. März 1962)


I want to express my thanks to you and to the Legion. I understand that the Commander had the impression here that none of us wore coats around--and I drove up to the White House and was just getting ready to put my coat on and I saw this demonstration of courage, so we're all here.

I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House, which belongs to all of us, and which I hope you will visit while you are here in Washington. This is a source of the greatest satisfaction. I can think of no group in the United States who is more entitled to stand in front of the White House and on the lawn than the members of the American Legion.

As you know, this house was burned once by the British. During my visit in Bermuda, this matter came up in the conversation, I don't know how, but it did. And Prime Minister Macmillan told me about a British general who visited the Pentagon in 1945--and this is not as well known a fact, evidently, in Britain as it is over here--and he saw this plaque which commemorated the burning of Washington by the British, and the general said, "Joan of Arc, yes, but not Washington."

In any case, I want to tell you how welcome you are as members of the American Legion, as former servicemen, as those particularly interested in the well-being and the strength of our country.

A free society is a critical society, and therefore I know you are constantly concerned about our position here and around the world. I think you should take some satisfaction, though, as Americans, in realizing how great are the burdens which this country has borne since, really, 1941--and in many ways since 1945. We carry the major share of the responsibility and the burdens for the defense of Europe--in Berlin itself--we bear the major share of the burden in the defense of southeast Asia, in the other side of the world. The United States contributes of its wealth and resources to the fight for freedom in our own hemisphere, in the countries to the south of us. We bear a major burden in Africa itself--in the Middle East--in India and Pakistan. We assist countries stretching all the way from Berlin around to Saigon to maintain their independence under great pressure--Greece and Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Thailand, Viet-Nam, the Republic of China, South Korea, the Philippines, and others.

This is a tremendous burden which falls upon the United States and the people of this country. We are only 6 percent of the world's population and yet we carry this struggle in all parts of the globe. So no American citizen should feel in any way that this country is not making a major effort to maintain the cause of freedom around the globe.

This is a heavy burden which falls upon all of us, but I don't think that there is any citizen of this country, and certainly no member of the American Legion, who wishes to relax that burden, who feels that we have carried it long enough, who feels that now others should pick it up.

We want others to bear their proportionate share of the burden but we do not suggest that we in the United States should fail or flinch or become fatigued.

There is no easy solution. There is no step we can take which can immediately bring an end to our burdens and struggle. But over the time, and those of you who served in the first War and the Second War know that what really counts is not the immediate act of courage or of valor, but those who bear the struggle day in and day out--not the sunshine patriots but those who are willing to stand for a long period of time.

That is what constitutes, in my opinion, the real courage, and I am sure that those of you in the Legion who have been devoted to the interests of your country over a long time share that conviction.

So as I said a year ago in assuming the Presidency, no generation has ever borne a greater responsibility than this generation, and as a member of it I welcome that responsibility-because it puts us in the front line of the most important fight in the world, and that is the fight for the maintenance of the security of the United States and to assist others who also want to be free.

So I welcome you to Washington. You are standing on ground which is your own-and on which you have every right to stand. I am honored by the Legion, and I appreciate very much this chance to extend the hand of welcome and of friendship to my comrades of the Legion.
Thank you.  ♦

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Peter W. Klages