[Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents Volume 37, Number 30 (Monday, July 30, 2001)]
[Pages 1105-1106]
[Online from the Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Presenting the Congressional Gold Medal
to Navajo Code Talkers

July 26, 2001

    Thank you very much. Today America honors 29 Native Americans who, 
in a desperate hour, gave their country a service only they could give. 
In war, using their native language, they relayed secret messages that 
turned the course of battle. At home, they carried for decades the 
secret of their own heroism. Today we give these exceptional marines the 
recognition they earned so long ago.
    I want to thank the Congress for inviting me here, Mr. Speaker. I 
want to thank Senators Campbell, Bingaman, and Johnson and Congressman 
Udall for their leadership. I want to thank Sergeant Major McMichael--
distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Washington, DC.
    The gentlemen with us, John Brown, Chester Nez, Lloyd Oliver, Allen 
Dale June, and Joe Palmer, represented by his son Kermit, are the last 
of the original Navajo Code Talkers. In presenting gold medals to

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each of them, the Congress recognizes their individual service, bravely 
offered and flawlessly performed.
    With silver medals, we also honor the dozens more who served later 
with the same courage and distinction. And with all these honors, 
America pays tribute to the tradition and community that produced such 
men, the great Navajo Nation. The paintings in this rotunda tell of 
America and its rise as a nation. Among them are images of the first 
Europeans to reach the coast and the first explorer to come upon the 
Mississippi. But before all these firsts on this continent, there were 
the first people. They are depicted in the background as if extras in 
the story. Yet, their own presence here in America predates all human 
record. Before others arrived, the story was theirs alone.
    Today we mark a moment of shared history and shared victory. We 
recall a story that all Americans can celebrate and every American 
should know. It is a story of ancient people called to serve in a modern 
war. It is a story of one unbreakable oral code of the Second World War, 
messages traveling by field radio on Iwo Jima in the very language heard 
across the Colorado plateau centuries ago.
    Above all, it's a story of young Navajos who brought honor to their 
Nation and victory to their country. Some of the Code Talkers were very 
young, like Albert Smith, who joined the Marines at 15. In order to 
enlist, he said, ``I had to advance my age a little bit.'' At least one 
Code Talker was overage, so he claimed to be younger in order to serve. 
On active duty, their value was so great and their order so sensitive 
that they were closely guarded. By war's end, some 400 Navajos had 
served as Code Talkers; 13 were killed in action, and their names, too, 
are on today's roll of honor.
    Regardless of circumstances, regardless of history, they came 
forward to serve America. The Navajo code itself provides a part of the 
reason. Late in his life, Albert Smith explained, ``The code word for 
America was, `Our Mother.' `Our Mother' stood for freedom, our religion, 
our ways of life, and that's why we went in.'' The Code Talkers joined 
44,000 Native Americans who wore the uniform in World War II. More than 
12,000 Native Americans fought in World War I. Thousands more served in 
Korea, Vietnam, and serve to this very day.
    Twenty-four Native Americans have earned the highest military 
distinction of all, the Medal of Honor, including Ernest Childers, who 
was my guest at the White House last week. In all these wars and 
conflicts, Native Americans have served with the modesty and strength 
and quiet valor their tradition has always inspired.
    That tradition found full expression in the Code Talkers--in those 
absent and in those with us today. Gentlemen, your service inspires the 
respect and admiration of all Americans, and our gratitude is expressed 
for all time in the medals it is now my honor to present.
    May God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:41 p.m. in the rotunda at the U.S. 
Capitol. In his remarks, he referred to Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael, 
USMC, who represented the U.S. Marine Corps.