[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1996, Book II)]
[December 23, 1996]
[Pages 2233-2235]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 2233]]

Remarks at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
December 23, 1996

    Thank you very much. Please sit down. Lieutenant General Wilhelm, 
Sergeant Major Wilson, Major General Howard, Major General Smith, 
members of the Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville community, my good friend 
Governor Hunt, Representative McHale, Representative-elect McIntyre, 
Mayor Choate, Chaplain. I also want to thank Chief Warrant Officer 
Anderson and the 2d Marine Division Band. Thank you all.
    Lieutenant General Wilhelm was not quite right; one person here at 
least would have preferred to hear him speak--me. [Laughter] I've heard 
me speak before. And he spoke so well, even if briefly, that he said 
most of what I meant to say in fewer words.
    He reminds me of the first speech I ever gave, 20 years ago, as a 
public official. It was at a Rotary Club installation banquet. And the 
banquet began at 6:30, and I was introduced to speak at 10. You know, it 
was one of those things--there were 500 people there; everyone was 
introduced except 3 people--they went home mad. Ten people spoke first, 
and the guy got up to introduce me, and he said, ``We could stop now and 
have had a very nice evening.'' [Laughter] Now, he didn't mean that, but 
I knew how he felt.
    Let me tell all of you, beginning with you, General Wilhelm, this 
day has been especially moving to me. When I got on the plane this 
morning, on Air Force One in Washington, flying down here with General 
Shalikashvili and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Brown and Navy Secretary 
Dalton, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and yes, General Krulak 
himself--[laughter]--I was looking forward to this day. But I have 
enjoyed it beyond my wildest expectations. I can't say it the way you 
do, but I would like to say at least hoo-rah--thank you very much.
    I'm delighted to be here today to join you in the holiday season, to 
welcome back the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 3d Battalion, 2d 
Marines, from their long deployments, and to make a few Christmas 
    This year at the White House Hillary and I asked the staff, instead 
of giving us traditional Christmas gifts, instead to donate toys to Toys 
for Tots, founded by the Marine Corps Reserve almost 50 years ago and 
represented here on the stage with me. Since then, Toys for Tots has 
become part of America's Christmas. It's brought holiday happiness to 
millions of children. And here in the Camp Lejeune-Jacksonville 
community you have set an outstanding example by collecting thousands of 
toys. Well, today we brought several sacks filled with toys from the 
White House to add to your efforts. I want to thank you for giving us 
the chance to do it. And I want to thank the members of my staff for 
representing all of us at Christmas in this special way.
    Above all, I wanted to bring to Camp Lejeune some heartfelt thank-
yous--first, to our men and women in uniform who put themselves on the 
line every day. You should know at Christmastime that you do have the 
knowing and profound gratitude of all Americans. You are helping us to 
fulfill a sacred pledge--to keep our Nation the greatest force in the 
world for peace and freedom, for security and prosperity. Your service 
is helping America to remain the world's indispensable nation, to lead 
in this time of tremendous change all over the world in how people work 
and live, relate to each other, and relate to people far beyond their 
Nation's borders. Only the United States today, thanks largely to you, 
has the ability to lead the world in its advance of peace and freedom, 
in its advance of security and prosperity. We simply could not do it 
without the overwhelming superiority of Armed Forces which you 
    America knows that you at Camp Lejeune are America's forces in 
readiness--forces like the 3d Battalion, 8th Marines, whom I just met at 
the mess hall and who must stay on alert over Christmas so the rest of 
us can celebrate this holiday of peace in peace. In the last 18 months, 
three/eight has provided vital security for our embassies in Africa, 
supported the mission of giving democracy a new chance in Haiti, and 
performed the spectacular rescue of Captain Scott O'Grady in Bosnia. I 
am very, very proud of all of you.
    After the battle of Iwo Jima, Admiral Nimitz said that among the 
marines who fought there, uncommon valor was a common virtue. Now, more 
than 50 years later, you still demonstrate

[[Page 2234]]

that high standard. We see that in units like the 24th MEU, which 
suffered such a tragedy when two helicopters collided last May, 
reminding all of us of the dangers of serving in the Armed Forces even 
in peacetime. The families of the victims are still in our thoughts and 
prayers, and today I salute Captain Walt Kulakowski and Major Chuck 
Johnson, who survived the crash, thank God. They're both fully recovered 
and are here with us now.
    I know from my conversation with Colonel Natonski at the time how 
deeply those losses affected the 24th MEU and their extended family here 
at Camp Lejeune. Yet, despite the tragedy, you never lost a stride. You 
fulfilled your mission in the Mediterranean with the skill and 
discipline that is a hallmark of the Marines. And your replacement, the 
26th MEU and Battalion Landing Team one/eight, are showing the same 
excellence even as we meet here today.
    Because of these units' devotion to duty, our forces on the ground 
in Bosnia can now go forward with their important mission. They know, 
and as Commander in Chief I know, that if trouble strikes there, the 
Marines will be there. There is no better insurance policy than that.
    As Lieutenant General Wilhelm said, this has been a good year for 
America. Throughout this year Camp Lejeune's marines and sailors and, 
indeed, all of our Armed Forces have advanced our Nation's interest and 
achieved a record of outstanding success. You have shown what is best 
about our country, the determination to stand up for freedom, to stand 
against oppression, the readiness to give a helping hand. Because of 
your example, people everywhere look to America for help and 
    In the Persian Gulf, America's men and women in uniform tightened 
the straitjacket around a dangerous tyrant. And off the Taiwan Straits, 
they calmed a rising storm. Because of all you have accomplished, more 
people in this holiday season in places like Haiti and Bosnia and, 
indeed, all around the globe can look forward to the blessings of a more 
normal life in the new year. I thank you for the service that has made 
that possible, and your Nation thanks you for that service.
    I want to give special thanks, too, today to our Supreme Allied 
Commander in Europe, General George Joulwan, for all the years of 
arduous service at home and untold years abroad and especially for his 
leading role in bringing peace to Bosnia. Today General Joulwan is 
announcing his intent to retire from the United States Army next spring. 
I thank him for his extraordinary service to the Nation, and I wish him 
and Mrs. Joulwan well. He has served in the finest American tradition. 
[Applause] Thank you.
    Finally, in this holiday season, as families come together all 
across our country, I want to say a special word of thanks to the 
families here. The burden of America's leadership in the world weighs 
heavily on the families of our men and women in uniform, as the families 
of marines who have just departed here for the Mediterranean and Okinawa 
know all too well. Our Nation asks a lot of our military families, long 
separations, uncertainty, living with danger.
    I have visited our forces from Bosnia to the Middle East, from Haiti 
to the Korean DMZ, and all across our Nation. I have seen the strong 
backing our troops get from their loved ones, backing that is absolutely 
essential for them to do their jobs, to keep their families together, to 
raise their children with love and good values and discipline, and to 
build strong communities. In the best of times, providing that kind of 
support takes hard work and sacrifices. In other times, it can require 
even more.
     This year in the Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville community, you have 
shown the strength to overcome real crises, one after the other. In May 
you had to pull together as one after the helicopter crash. You got the 
seabags packed and got your sailors and marines off on their mission. 
Then the mission on the homefront became even tougher than the one in 
the Mediterranean. First, Hurricane Bertha ripped up homes and trees, 
knocked out power, and turned North Carolina into a disaster area. No 
sooner had you cleaned up from that storm when Hurricane Fran arrived, 
packing stronger winds and causing even more damage. But with energy and 
resolve, with the special efforts of your Key Volunteers, you met these 
challenges well, and housed and fed those who couldn't go home, and put 
Lejeune back on its feet.
    This time of year more than any other is a time of family and faith, 
of love and giving gifts. I thank the families here for the gifts they 
have given to America, to enable us to have a Marine Corps, a Navy, an 
Armed Forces that can serve as well as any in all of history.
    For all of America, surely there is no greater gift at Christmastime 
than the peace and free-

[[Page 2235]]

dom we enjoy. Because you are standing watch, our Nation has the 
greatest freedom in history. Because you are there, we can grow stronger 
and everyone has the chance to make the most of his or her God-given 
abilities. Because you are standing watch, we can raise our children in 
freedom and give them their chance, too. Because you are standing watch, 
those children can sleep without fear and wake up to the kinds of 
holidays we are about to celebrate.
    Day-in and day-out, your sacrifice makes all this possible. It is 
your gift to your country. For all your fellow Americans, in a very real 
sense you make every day Christmas. You have always been faithful to 
America, and America must always be faithful to you.
    Thank you. Semper Fi. Happy holidays. God bless you, and God bless 

Note: The President spoke at 2:48 p.m. at Goettge Memorial Fieldhouse. 
In his remarks, he referred to Lt. Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, USMC, 
Commander, Maj. Gen. Ray L. Smith, USMC, Deputy Commander, and Sgt. Maj. 
Albert S. Wilson, USMC, Marine Forces Atlantic; Maj. Gen. Patrick G. 
Howard, USMC, Commanding General, Camp Lejeune; Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr., 
of North Carolina; Mayor Marvin Choate of Jacksonville, NC; Lt. Bern 
Nowack, USN, Chaplain, Battalion Landing Team, 2d Battalion, 8th 
Marines; Chief Warrant Officer Tommy L. Anderson, USMC, Director, 2d 
Marine Division Band; and Col. Richard Natonski, USMC, Commanding 
Officer, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.