Remarks at the Welcoming Ceremony for the Freed American Hostages

January 27, 1981

The President. Cardinal Cooke, thank you, I think, for delivering this weather. We had been promised showers. We're most grateful.

Welcome to the Ambassadors of our friends in neighboring countries who are here today. And I can think of no better way to let you know how Nancy and I feel about your presence here today than to say on behalf of us, of the Vice President and Barbara, the Senators, the Members of Congress, the members of the Cabinet, and all of our fellow citizens, these simple words: Welcome home.

You are home, and believe me, you're welcome. If my remarks were a sermon, my text would be lines from the 126th Psalm: ``We were like those who dreamed. Now our mouth is filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy. The Lord has done great things for us. We are glad.'' You've come home to a people who for 444 days suffered the pain of your imprisonment, prayed for your safety, and most importantly, shared your determination that the spirit of free men and women is not a fit subject for barter.

You've represented under great stress the highest traditions of public service. Your conduct is symbolic of the millions of professional diplomats, military personnel, and others who have rendered service to their country.

We're now aware of the conditions under which you were imprisoned. Though now is not the time to review every abhorrent detail of your cruel confinement, believe me, we know what happened. Truth may be a rare commodity today in Iran; it's alive and well in America.

By no choice of your own, you've entered the ranks of those who throughout our history have undergone the ordeal of imprisonment: the crew of the Pueblo, the prisoners in two World Wars and in Korea and Vietnam. And like those others, you are special to us. You fulfilled your duty as you saw it, and now like the others, thank God you're home, and our hearts are full of gratitude.

I'm told that Sergeant Lopez here put up a sign in his cell, a sign that normally would have been torn down by those guards. But this one was written in Spanish, and his guards didn't know that ``Viva la roja, blanco, y azul'' means ``Long live the red, white, and blue.'' They may not understand what that means in Iran, but we do, Sergeant Lopez, and you've filled our hearts with pride. Muchas gracias.

Two days ago, Nancy and I met with your families here at the White House. We know that you were lonely during that dreadful period of captivity, but you were never alone. Your wives and children, your mothers and dads, your brothers and sisters were so full of prayers and love for you that whether you were conscious of it or not, it must have sustained you during some of the worst times. No power on Earth could prevent them from doing that. Their courage, endurance, and strength were of heroic measure, and they're admired by all of us.

But to get down now to more mundane things, in case you have a question about your personal futures, you'll probably have less time to rest than you'd like. While you were on your way to Germany, I signed a hiring freeze in the Federal Government. In other words, we need you, your country needs you, and your bosses are panting to have you back on the job.

Now, I'll not be so foolish as to say forget what you've been through; you never will. But turn the page and look ahead, and do so knowing that for all who served their country, whether in the Foreign Service, the military, or as private citizens, freedom is indivisible. Your freedom and your individual dignity are much cherished. Those henceforth in the representation of this Nation will be accorded every means of protection that America can offer.

Let terrorists be aware that when the rules of international behavior are violated, our policy will be one of swift and effective retribution. We hear it said that we live in an era of limit to our powers. Well, let it also be understood, there are limits to our patience.

Now, I'm sure that you'll want to know that with us here today are families of the eight heroic men who gave their lives in the attempt to effect your rescue. ``Greater glory hath no man than that he lay down his life for another.'' And with us also are Colonel Beckwith and some of the men who did return from that mission. We ask God's special healing for those who suffered wounds and His comfort to those who lost loved one. To them, to you, and to your families, again, welcome from all America and thank you for making us proud to be Americans.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I call on, to speak for this wonderful group of returnees, Bruce Laingen, Deputy Chief of Mission [Charge d'Affaires] in Tehran. Mr. Laingen.

Mr. Laingen. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, members of the Cabinet, Vice President and Mrs. Bush -- I think I've got that out of order of priority in protocol terms -- members of the diplomatic corps who are here, and all you beautiful people out there:

I'm not sure I'm capable of this after that emotionally draining, but beautiful experience that all of us have just had on the streets of this magnificent city, Mr. President. I hope you were watching TV, because I don't think any of us Americans have ever seen anything quite like it, quite so spontaneous, quite so beautiful in terms of the best qualities of our people. And we are deeply grateful for it.

Mr. President, our flight to freedom is now complete: thanks to the prayers and good will of countless millions of people, not just in this country but all around the world; the assistance of those many countries and governments who understood the values and principles that were at stake in this crisis; and the love and affection of our countrymen from all those tens of thousands out there on the streets today, to that lady that we saw standing on a hillside as we came in from Andrews, all alone, with no sign, no one around her, holding her hand to her heart -- the enveloping love and affection of smalltown America of the kind we witnessed in that wonderful 2-day stop in New York State, West Point and its environs, and last, but not least, on this flight to freedom, the United States Air Force on Freedom I.

Mr. President, I give you now 52 Americans, supplemented by a 53d, today, Richard Queen sitting over here, overjoyed in reunion with our families, the real heroes in this crisis; 53 Americans, proud to rejoin their professional colleagues who had made their flight to freedom earlier -- our 6 colleagues who came here with the great cooperation and friendship of our Canadian friends, and our 13 who came earlier. I give you now 53 Americans, proud, as I said earlier today, to record their undying respect and affection for the families of those brave 8 men who gave their lives so that we might be free, 53 of us proud today, this afternoon, and also to see and to meet with some of those families and Colonel Beckwith and some of those who came back. Fifty-three Americans who will always have a love affair with this country and who join with you in a prayer of thanksgiving for the way in which this crisis has strengthened the spirit and resilience and strength that is the mark of a truly free society.

Mr. President, we've seen a lot of signs along the road, here and up in New York. They are marvelous signs, as is the spirit and enthusiasm that accompanies, this what we've been calling ``a celebration of freedom.'' They are signs that have not been ordered. They are spontaneous, sincere signs that reflect the true feelings of the hearts of those who hold them, even those, I suppose, like ``IRS welcomes you'' -- [laughter] -- which we saw today as we came into town, and another one that said, ``Government workers welcome you back to work.'' Well, we're ready.

There was another sign that said, and I think that says it as well as any as far as we're concerned: ``The best things in life are free.'' But even better than that was a sign that we saw as we left West Point today along a superhighway up there that someone had hastily put out: ``And the world will be better for this.'' We pray, Mr. President, that this will be so.

Mr. President, in very simple words that come from the hearts of all of us, it is good to be back. Thank you, America, and God bless all of you.

Thank you very much.

The President. Thank you.

This is a flag, in this case bearing your name, and it is a symbol I will give to you now, because all the others -- you will each receive one when we get inside the building. Each one of you will have a flag symbolic of the 53 that are here in your honor.

And now -- Nancy, come on up here -- I think now a fit ending for all of this would be for all of us to participate in singing ``God Bless America.''

[The audience sang ``God Bless America.'']

Goodby. Thank you, and God bless you. We'll see you all inside.

Note: The President spoke at 3:11 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House. His remarks were broadcast live on radio and television.

Prior to the ceremony, the President and Mrs. Reagan were introduced to the freed American hostages individually by Mr. Laingen in the Blue Room at the White House.