Remarks on Signing the Columbus Day Proclamation

October 9, 1981

Ladies and gentlemen, we are here for the signing of the proclamation with regard to Columbus Day. And I am delighted that here on the platform with us, we have the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Renaldo Petrignani; Ambasssador Jose Llado, the Spanish Ambassador to the United States -- I think that we, all of us, understand the connection between Spain and Italy with regard to Columbus Day -- [laughter] -- Frank D. Stella, the president of the National Italian American Foundation; Donald J. Senese, president of Amerito, who is also our Assistant Secretary of Education; Anthony Giampapa, vice president of UNICO; and Mr. Aldo Caira, president of the Sons of Italy.

You know, just the other day, I learned that the Marine Band is known as the President's own, and it makes me very proud to be able to say that, because it is one of the great concert bands of the world. But it also has some Italian blood in its background. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson was not pleased with the Marine Band that he found at the White House when he arrived as President. Jefferson told the Marine Commandant that he should look for musicians in Italy, which was noted then, as now, for its musical talent. The Commandant, taking Mr. Jefferson's remarks as an order, sent a representative to Italy, where the fellow persuaded Italian musicians of all ages to join the Marines and return with him to America. [Laughter] And this Italian excellence has been the standard for the band ever since. And I can tell you that even after 183 years, the band hasn't lost its Italian love and heart for music.

Incidentally, that same search continues to later days. I knew a man in Hollywood, when I was there, who was an actor only long enough to save money so that he could study for his chosen career, which was opera. And having enough money, he left Hollywood and went to Milan, Italy. And there he studied for 2 years and finally received that great honor -- was invited to sing at La Scala, the very spiritual fountainhead of opera. They were doing Pagliacci, and he sang the very beautiful aria, Vesti la guibba, and when he had finished singing the applause from the orchestra seats and the galleries and the balconies was so sustained and so thunderous, that they couldn't continue the opera until he stepped back and repeated the aria as an encore. And again, the same sustained and thunderous applause, and again, he sang Vesti la guibba. And finally, he motioned for quiet. And he said, ``I have sung Vesti la guibba now nine times.'' He said, ``My voice is gone. I cannot sing it again.'' And a voice from the balcony said, ``You'll do it till you get it right.'' [Laughter]

But if I had thought of all of this sooner, I would have had that Marine Band come to play for us today, because we really should have music, because this is not just a solemn proclamation signing. It's a celebration of what the great mariner, Christopher Columbus, accomplished. And in recent years, Columbus Day has also become a day to celebrate what Italian Americans have accomplished.

Columbus is symbolic of the millions of Italians who have come to the New World since its discovery. They, too, possessed courage, and they, too, sought opportunity and endured hardship. For many, their journey was just as personally demanding as the one that Columbus undertook. I remember John Volpe telling me that it took his parents 6 weeks to cross the Atlantic in steerage, and all they had was a battered suitcase when they arrived.

Our immigrant ancestors worked long and hard. They adhered to solid, decent values, and they consequently prospered. Today, if it were not for a rightful pride of heritage, there would be no reason to identify Italian Americans as any kind of separate ethnic group, for Italian Americans are integrated into every aspect of American life -- business, labor, arts, the professions, as well as high posts in this administration. Indeed, time would not permit me to list those who are here as a part of this administration.

And I'm going to sign the proclamation now, but as I sign it, I am commemorating not only the great navigator and explorer, Christopher Columbus, but those who centuries later followed him to the New World and helped make this the great nation that it is today.

Note: The President spoke at 1:45 p.m. at the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

Proclamation 4873 -- Columbus Day

October 9, 1981

By the President of the United States

of America

A Proclamation

Christopher Columbus, whose life and exploits we commemorate each October, is one of the true heroes of our Nation's history.

He is justly admired as a brilliant navigator, a fearless man of action, a visionary who opened the eyes of an older world to an entirely new one. Above all, he personifies a view of the world that many see as quintessentially American: not merely optimistic, but scornful of the very notion of despair.

Nearly five centuries have passed since the fateful day on which Columbus changed the course of history. But his adventurous spirit lives on among us, challenging us to emulation and abiding with us as we too press forward on our voyage of discovery.

In tribute to the achievement of Columbus and to the many sons and daughters of Italy who have helped to shape our life and destiny as a people, the Congress of the United States of America has requested the President to proclaim the second Monday in October of each year as Columbus Day.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby designate Monday, October 12, 1981, as Columbus Day; and I invite the people of this Nation to observe that day in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies in his honor.

I also direct that the flag of the United States of America be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in memory of Christopher Columbus.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and sixth.

Ronald Reagan

[Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 3:27 p.m., October 9, 1981]