Memorial Day Speeches, Proclamations, and Statements

Posted on May 27, 2011
By Callie Oettinger

Memorial Day Speeches, Proclamations and Statements reflect the changing course of history. A few quotes are listed below, under links to the full speech, proclamation or statement.

Memorial Day, 1914: President Woodrow Wilson

“We admire physical courage, but we admire above all things else moral courage. I believe that soldiers will bear me out in saying that both come in time of battle. I take it that the moral courage comes in going into the battle, and the physical courage in staying in.”

—President Woodrow Wilson

Memorial Day, 1922: American Poet Edwin Markham

May 30, 1922—Memorial Day—American poet Edwin Markham read his poem Lincoln, The Man of the People, at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial.

Memorial Day, 1922: Dr. Robert Russa Moton

May 30, 1922—Memorial Day—Dr. Robert Russa Moton gave a keynote speech at the Lincoln Memorial Dedication Ceremony. President Howard Taft, then the head of the Lincoln Memorial Commission, selected Dr. Moton to give the speech.

Memorial Day, 1931: President Herbert Hoover

“We are upon the eve of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. It is, therefore, appropriate that our observance of Memorial Day should this year be at this place, so intimately associated with the moral grandeur of the Father of our Country.”

—President Herbert Hoover

Memorial Day, 1952: President Harry S. Truman

“I believe that this year enduring peace is more nearly attainable than a year ago. This is so because our strength and the strength of other free Nations has steadily grown. Our strength and determination to remain free are leading to peace.”

—President Harry S. Truman

Memorial Day, 1966: President Lyndon Johnson

“Peace does not come just because we wish for it. Peace must be fought for. It must be built stone by stone. In the first half of this century we learned that there can be no peace if might makes right–if force used by one nation against a weaker nation is ever permitted to succeed. We have learned that the time to stop aggression is when it first begins. And that is one reason we are in South Vietnam today.”

— President Lyndon Johnson

Memorial Day, 1974: President Richard Nixon

“Last Wednesday, I was gratified to note that the House of Representatives defeated an amendment that would have forced the withdrawal of 100,000 American troops serving overseas. This measure would have struck a critical blow at the confidence of both our allies in Europe and the Pacific and at the credibility of the United States in the continuing negotiations with the Soviet Union for the mutual withdrawal of troops from Europe.

“In addition, the House also defeated two other amendments which would have seriously damaged our defense posture-an amendment to slash $700 million across the board from necessary defense spending and an amendment to halt the development of two important strategic weapons systems, the Trident submarine and the B I bomber.”

—President Richard Nixon

Memorial Day, 1976: President Gerald R. Ford

“There is no higher honor or more solemn privilege than to represent our Nation in paying tribute to its honored dead. In this, our 200th year, this day and this hallowed ground take on a very special meaning. As we mark this anniversary of our national independence, we must remember that the Bicentennial celebrates more than a successful political revolution which freed America from foreign rule. The founding of our Nation was more than a political event; it was an act of faith, a promise to Americans and to the entire world. The Declaration of Independence declared that people can govern themselves, that they can live in freedom with equal rights, that they can respect the rights of others.”

—President Gerald R. Ford

Memorial Day, 1980: President Jimmy Carter

“This past year we have had abundant proof that American courage still lives-eight Americans gave up their lives and others were seriously injured in the attempt to free their fellow Americans held hostage in Iran. We can take pride in our concern for national honor and in the firmness and restraint with which Americans face crises.”

—President Jimmy Carter

Memorial Day, 1984: President Ronald Reagan

“Well, today then, one way to honor those who served or may still be serving in Vietnam is to gather here and rededicate ourselves to securing the answers for the families of those missing in action. I ask the Members of Congress, the leaders of veterans groups, and the citizens of an entire nation present or listening, to give these families your help and your support, for they still sacrifice and suffer.

“Vietnam is not over for them. They cannot rest until they know the fate of those they loved and watched march off to serve their country. Our dedication to their cause must be strengthened with these events today. We write no last chapters. We close no books. We put away no final memories. An end to America’s involvement in Vietnam cannot come before we’ve achieved the fullest possible accounting of those missing in action.

“This can only happen when their families know with certainty that this nation discharged her duty to those who served nobly and well. Today a united people call upon Hanoi with one voice: Heal the sorest wound of this conflict. Return our sons to America. End the grief of those who are innocent and undeserving of any retribution.

“The Unknown Soldier who is returned to us today and whom we lay to rest is symbolic of all our missing sons, and we will present him with the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration that we can bestow.”

—President Ronald Reagan

Memorial Day, 1992: President George Bush

“The men and women who gave their lives in service to our country were dedicated to the worthy cause of freedom, and not one of them died in vain. From colonial America to the Persian Gulf, from places such as the Argonne to Normandy, Inchon, and Da Nang—they fought and sacrificed so others might live in peace, free from the fear of tyranny and aggression. On this Memorial Day, our hearts should swell with thankfulness and pride as we reflect on our Nation’s enduring heritage of liberty under law and on the continuing expansion of democratic ideals around the globe.”

—President George Bush

Memorial Day, 2000: President Bill Clinton

“This morning we were honored to receive at the White House the sons and daughters and spouses of servicemen still missing in action. There is no more compelling way to understand how important our continuous efforts are to the hearts and minds of Americans than to hear it from family members themselves. And that is why I am pleased to announce to you today that the United States and North Korea have agreed to resume the talks the first week of June in Kuala Lumpur in hopes of resuming recovery operations in North Korea this year.

“As we prepare to observe the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean war on June 25th, we reaffirm our commitment to the more than 1.7 million Americans who served in Korea, the more than 36,000 who lost their lives there, and the more than 8,100 still missing.

“I also want to tell you today about the latest American soldier to come home. Just last week our team of specialists identified finally and officially the remains of a soldier of the 1st Calvary Regiment of the America division, whose Huey helicopter was flying in the weeds at 25 feet over Laos in the summer of 1970 when it lost power and crashed. The young soldier died immediately. When others rushed to the scene to bring his body out, they were forced back by enemy fire. When they tried again a short time later, they were again forced back. But finally, America returned to recover its own.”

—President Bill Clinton

Memorial Day, 2002: President George W. Bush

“Words can only go so far in capturing the grief and sense of loss for the families of those who died in all our wars. For some military families in America and in Europe, the grief is recent, with the losses we have suffered in Afghanistan. They can know, however, that the cause is just. And like other generations, these sacrifices have spared many others from tyranny and sorrow.

“Long after putting away his uniform, an American GI expressed his own pride and the truth about all who served, living and dead. He said, ‘I feel like I played my part in turning this from a century of darkness into a century of light.’

“Here where we stand today, the new world came back to liberate the old. A bond was formed of shared trial and shared victory. And a light that scattered darkness from these shores and across France would spread to all of Europe, in time turning enemies into friends and the pursuits of war into the pursuits of peace. Our security is still bound up together in a transatlantic alliance, with soldiers in many uniforms defending the world from terrorists at this very hour.”

—President George W. Bush

Memorial Day, 2009: President Barack Obama

“If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they console us? Perhaps they might say that while they could not know they’d be called upon to storm a beach through a hail of gunfire, they were willing to give up everything for the defense of our freedom; that while they could not know they’d be called upon to jump into the mountains of Afghanistan and seek an elusive enemy, they were willing to sacrifice all for their country; that while they couldn’t possibly know they would be called to leave this world for another, they were willing to take that chance to save the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms.

“What is this thing—this sense of duty? What tugs at a person until he or she says, “Send me”? Why, in an age when so many have acted only in pursuit of the narrowest self interest, have the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others? Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest burden?

“Whatever it is, they felt some tug; they answered a call; they said, “I’ll go.” That is why they are the best of America, and that is what separates them from those who’ve not served in uniform: Their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met.”

—President Barack Obama

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Arlington National Cemetery, places flags in preparation for Memorial Day. May 26, 2011.  Credit: DVIDSHUB

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Arlington National Cemetery, places flags in preparation for Memorial Day. May 26, 2011.

CALLIE OETTINGER was Command Posts’ first managing editor. Her interest in military history, policy, and fiction took root when she was a kid, traveling and living the life of an Army Brat, and continues today.