October 20, 2000
Today, we honor our finest young
people; fallen soldiers who rose to freedom's challenge. We mourn
their loss, celebrate their lives, offer the love and prayers
of a grateful nation to their families.
For those of us who have to speak here, we are all mindful of the limits of our poor words to lift your spirits or warm your hearts. We know that God has given us the gift of reaching our middle years. And we now have to pray for your children, your husbands, your wives, your brothers, your sisters, who were taken so young. We know we will never know them as you did or remember them as you will; the first time you saw them in uniform, or the last time you said goodbye.
They all had their own stories and their own dreams. We Americans have learned something about each and every one of them over these last difficult days as their profiles, their lives, their loves, their service, have been given to us. For me, I learned a little more when I met with all the families this morning.
Some follow the family tradition of Navy service; others hoped to use their service to earn a college degree. One of them had even worked for me in the White House. Richard Costelow was a technology wizard who helped to update the White House communications system for this new century.
All these very different Americans, all with their different stories, their lifelines and love ties, answered the same call of service and found themselves on the USS Cole, headed for the Persian Gulf, where our forces are working to keep peace and stability in a region that could explode and disrupt the entire world.
Their tragic loss reminds us that even when America is not at war, the men and women of our military still risk their lives for peace. I am quite sure history will record in great detail our triumphs in battle, but I regret that no one will ever be able to write a full account of the wars we never fought, the losses we never suffered, the tears we never shed because men and women like those who were on the USS Cole were standing guard for peace. We should never, ever forget that.
Today, I ask all Americans just to take a moment to thank the men and women of our Armed Forces for a debt we can never repay, whose character and courage, more than even modern weapons, makes our military the strongest in the world. And in particular, I ask us to thank God today for the lives, the character and courage of the crew of the USS Cole, including the wounded and especially those we lost or are missing:
Hull Maintenance Technician Third Class Kenneth Eugene Clodfelter; Electronics Technician Chief Petty Officer First Class Richard Costelow; Mess Management Specialist Seaman Lakeina Monique Francis; Information Systems Technician Seaman Timothy Lee Gauna; Signalman Seaman Apprentice Cheron Louis Gunn; Seaman James Rodrick McDaniels; Engineman Second Class Mark Ian Nieto; Electronics Warfare Technician Third Class Ronald Scott Owens; Seaman Apprentice Lakiba Nicole Palmer. Engine Fireman Joshua Langdon Parlett; Fireman Apprentice Patrick Howard Roy; Electronics Warfare Technician Second Class Kevin Shawn Rux; Mess Management Specialist Third Class Ronchester Managan Santiago; Operations Specialist Second Class Timothy Lamont Saunders; Fireman Gary Graham Swenchonis, Jr; Ensign Andrew Triplett; Seaman Apprentice Craig Bryan Wibberley.
In the names and faces of those we lost and mourn, the world
sees our nation's greatest strength. People in uniform rooted
in every race, creed and region on the face of the earth; yet,
bound together by a common commitment to freedom and a common
pride in being American. That same spirit is living today as the
crew of the USS Cole pulls together in a determined struggle to
determined warrior afloat.
The idea of common humanity and unity amidst diversity, so purely embodied by those we mourn today, must surely confound the minds of the hate-filled terrorists who killed them. They envy our strength without understanding the values that give us strength. For, for them, it is their way or no way. Their interpretation, twisted though it may be, of a beautiful religious tradition. Their political views, their racial and ethnic views. Their way or no way.
Such people can take innocent life. They have caused your tears and anguish, but they can never heal, or build harmony, or bring people together. That is work only free, law-abiding people can do. People like the sailors of the USS Cole.
To those who attacked them, we say: you will not find a safe harbor. We will find you, and justice will prevail. America will not stop standing guard for peace or freedom or stability in the Middle East and around the world.
But some way, someday, people must learn the lesson of the lives of those we mourn today, of how they worked together, of how they lived together, of how they reached across all the lines that divided them and embraced their common humanity and the common values of freedom and service.
Not far from here, there is a quiet place that honors those who gave their lives in service to our country. Adorning its entrance are words from a poem by Archibald Macleish; not only a tribute to the young we lost, but a summons to those of us left behind. Listen to them. The young no longer speak, but: They have a silence that speaks for them at night. They say: we were young, remember us. They say: we have done what we could, but until it is finished, it is not done. They say: our deaths are not ours; they are yours; they will mean what you make them. They say: whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope, we cannot say; it is you who must say this. They say: we leave your our deaths. Give them their meaning.
The lives of the men and women we lost on the USS Cole meant so much to those who loved them, to all Americans, to the cause of freedom. They have given us their deaths. Let us give them their meaning. Their meaning of peace and freedom, of reconciliation and love, of service, endurance and hope. After all they have given us, we must give them their meaning.
I ask now that you join me in a moment of silence and prayer for the lost, the missing, and their grieving families.
Amen. Thank you, and may God bless you all.