Radio Address to the Nation on Armed Forces Day

May 15, 1982

My fellow Americans:

Today marks the United States' 33d observance of Armed Forces Day, a tradition begun by President Truman to honor the men and women who serve our country in uniform. I want to take this occasion to reflect on the job they're doing and what it means to us.

One of the oldest truths in the world is that nothing worth having is cheap. And many times, the greater the good, the higher its cost. Keeping America free has cost us dearly over the centuries. Since 1776 we as a nation have lost thousands of lives and suffered thousands of injuries to guarantee our freedom. Preserving the peace also requires the daily toil of millions of men and women who, without fanfare and glory, serve to protect our freedom and security.

The men and women in our armed services are our final protection against those who wish us ill. The soldier, the sailor, the airman, and the marine in the United States and around the world are the ultimate guardians of our freedom to say what we think, go where we will, choose who we want for our leaders, and pray as we wish.

It is sad that these rights, which should belong to all people, are not fully enjoyed by most of the human family. It is sadder still that some in the world view such freedom as a threat to their right to rule over their fellow citizens, and so long as that's true, we can't afford to take our freedom for granted. It cannot survive without protection. And for their role in protecting our freedoms, we honor the members of our volunteer Armed Forces today.

Their jobs are difficult, requiring judgment, technical know-how, endurance, and in many cases exposure to danger. We ask them to put in long hours under trying conditions. Many serve far from their homes and families, prepared, if need be, to make the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. In short, they give us their all.

So, I would like to thank them today: the Army tank crewmember in Germany or Korea, responsible for maintaining a 55-ton machine so that it's ready at a moment's notice; the sailor in the Indian Ocean who's been away from home for 4 months and is working 18 hours a day in a hot engine room or carrying chocks for returning aircraft; the Air Force security policeman guarding our nuclear alert aircraft in the Texas heat or the North Dakota winter; the Marine squad leader on Okinawa working with his men to provide the most efficient combat team in the world. All these people and the rest of their comrades in arms we thank today.

There is another group which deserves special thanks -- the wives of our servicemen, wives who take care of the families and raise the children while their husbands are at sea or stationed far away, and wives who have left our shores to be in a faraway land with their husbands.

I had a letter the other day from one young wife describing what life was like where they were stationed. I could read homesickness between the lines, but not one word of complaint -- only great pride in what her husband is doing. Their contribution is critical; the separation, the long hours, the hard work, and, up until recently, the low pay -- all these have been burdens to them as well. The understanding and encouragement they give our servicemen is something we must all be grateful for.

So, on behalf of all you listening, I want to take these few minutes today to thank our men and women in uniform and their families and to ensure them their government and their fellow citizens are determined to provide them with the equipment, training, and, just as importantly, the respect they have so richly earned. With their help, the United States remains at peace.

Our allies enjoy the same benefit. Our national determination to defend freedom at the borders where it's threatened is fully matched by the quality and spirit of the more than 2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who proudly wear the American uniform.

I received another letter from one of our ambassadors in Europe. He wrote that a 19-year-old trooper in our armored cavalry had asked that he send me a message. It was: ``Tell the President we're proud to be here, and we ain't scared of nothing.''

In James Michener's book ``The Bridges at Toko-Ri,'' he writes of an officer waiting through the night for the return of planes to a carrier as dawn is coming on. And he asks, ``Where do we find such men?'' Well, we find them where we've always found them. They are the product of the freest society man has ever known. They make a commitment to the military -- make it freely, because the birthright we share as Americans is worth defending. God bless America.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll be with you again next Saturday. Until then, God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House.