Remarks at a White House Ceremony for Medical Students and United States Military Personnel From Grenada

November 7, 1983

The President. Secretary Weinberger, General Vessey, [Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger and Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and all of you students and all of the men and women who are here in uniform:

I'm so glad to meet you and to be able to say it officially -- welcome home. I can't tell you when I've been so happy and, I might add, relieved to have such guests here on the South Lawn. So a very warm and grateful welcome to you all, and welcome to the Ambassadors and other special guests who are here.

Let me tell you how this little get-together came about. I'm actually playing matchmaker today. You students sent me so many moving telegrams of appreciation about the military fellows who rescued you, I thought it might be nice if you had the chance to tell them yourselves. So, here in this more peaceful setting are representatives of all the four units that participated and were there with you on Grenada.

In letter after letter, you spoke of your deep respect for those who risked their lives and in some circumstances gave their lives so that you'd be safe. A great many of you said you believed you'd be dead or held hostage today if it weren't for the courageous men whose business it is to be courageous -- our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. I wish I could give every military person who participated in the Grenada rescue copies of your telegrams and letters.

Some of you also wrote of your anger that certain people belittled the danger that you were in. And I must say this angered me a little, too. It's very easy for some smug know-it-all in a plush, protected quarter to say that you were in no danger. I have wondered how many of them would have changed places with you. [Laughter]

Some of our fellows didn't make it back. Ted and Jan Stathos wrote me a letter, as so many of you did, and I'd like to read just one small passage because it says so much.

``While we waited for the rangers to evacuate our campus at'' -- and I hope I'm pronouncing this right -- ``at Grand Anse, we experienced many chilling and sad moments. The most upsetting of these was the sight of an American helicopter being shot down by enemy fire. There were tears in everyone's eyes as we scanned the ocean water for the sight of any survivors. We knew then how much our lives meant to the brave men fighting for our safety.''

I wish I could tell you all the acts of heroism that I've been hearing. Sergeant Steven Trujillo, a Ranger, is one example. His unit was engaged in an air assault on the Calivigny Compound which was held by Cuban forces. Sergeant Trujillo was in the first of four helicopters to go into the compound under intense enemy fire. Upon landing, Sergeant Trujillo saw the three other helicopters lose control and crash into one another. Immediately, and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he ran across open terrain to the downed aircraft, exposing himself to enemy fire, flying shrapnel, and possible explosion of the burning helicopters. With only the lives of his fallen comrades in mind and while still in the open and exposed to intense automatic and small arms fire, Sergeant Trujillo began administering first aid to the critically wounded. Upon arrival of the battalion's physician's assistant, Sergeant Trujillo returned to the crashed aircraft several times, removing the wounded soldiers, carrying them across terrain to a safer location, and administering medical aid. During the entire time he came under automatic and small arms fire. His unselfish actions were instrumental in saving the lives of a platoon leader and several other seriously wounded soldiers. And the inspiring thing is that Sergeant Trujillo would have risked his life for each of you, as well.

From your letters to me, I know how deep your gratitude -- even affection -- is for these men. Some of you have asked how you can express that respect and affection. Well, you've been doing a marvelous job already. Nothing could make those men prouder than the statements you've made to America about their bravery and devotion to a cause larger than themselves.

A few years ago it seemed that America forgot what an admirable and essential need there is for a nation to have men and women who would give their lives to protect their fellow citizens. What you saw 10 days ago was called patriotism. What those men did for you they would do for any American in trouble. And the way you can best honor those who died in Grenada is to speak out about their courage and commitment as they risked their lives for yours and as so many of you have been doing already.

Unbelievably, the other day a reporter asked me what was the difference between our invading Grenada and the Soviets invading Afghanistan? And the question sort of touched my temperature control. [Laughter] I answered. And among the things I said was that there was no comparison between the savage invasion of Afghanistan with its slaughter of innocent men, women, and children -- civilians -- and the heroic rescue mission of our young Americans. Our troops are already leaving Grenada, but don't hold your breath waiting for the Soviets to leave Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan people aren't meeting the soldiers with friendly waves and gifts of flowers and fruit over there. A CBS news poll shows that an overwhelming majority of the Grenadians -- 91 percent -- are glad the United States came to Grenada. I think that tells a lot about the differences between democracy and totalitarianism.

Now, I'm not going to take up all the time here. But it's good to have both students and servicemen together under more peaceful circumstances. And would you do me a favor? When you all leave today, would you try not to be as dramatic as it was on your last leavetaking? [Laughter]

But thank you for coming. God bless all of you. And now, I believe that Jean Joel and Jeff Geller want to say a few words.

Mr. Geller. President and Mrs. Reagan, distinguished members of the military, fellow students:

It is indeed a great honor to speak to you today. When I first spoke to the press and said that I wanted to thank President Reagan and the military, I never dreamed that I'd have a chance to do it personally.

I am here today to say a few words on behalf of the student body of St. George's University School of Medicine. I think that I can speak not only on behalf of the students but also on behalf of all the families of the students in expressing our gratitude to both you, Mr. President, and every member of the military that took part in our evacuation. We owe each and every one of you a debt that we can never repay.

I can recall the joy and pride that I felt as the rangers first emerged over the hill behind my dormitory. I looked out from my dormitory window and, upon hearing that they were Americans, I shouted for joy and thought to myself, ``They haven't forgotten us, because we're Americans.''

I think that we are often so caught up in criticizing our government and our military that we lose sight of the admirable qualities that they possess. Two weeks ago, I saw those qualities in action. For the American military, I have only praise. They acted in a manner that all Americans can be proud of.

Prior to this experience, I had held liberal political views which were not always sympathetic with the position of the American military. I think a lot of us who don't have a firsthand view are often skeptical when we hear that our military is involved in a faraway place. We don't always understand why our soldiers are fighting abroad. Well, let me say that I have learned a lot from this experience. It's one thing to view an American military operation from afar and quite another to be rescued by one.

We are a group of young men and women dedicated to study medicine so that we can save lives. Let us also remember that many lives were lost in saving ours. Let us honor those American men who gave their lives so that someday we can save others.

To you, President Reagan, I must add a special thank you. On behalf of my parents and of all the students' parents, thank you for bringing us back to the United States. There is truly no place like home.

Ms. Joel. I'm very proud and honored to be here today, and I believe I represent not only my own class but all of St. George's University School of Medicine when I say that I am grateful to the U.S. military for their actions. I never had so much faith or pride in my country than during the 24 hours I spent under war conditions in Grenada.

Probably the most poignant moment for me, personally, was Tuesday night, in the library that we converted into a makeshift medical unit. I thought about the fact that just 24 hours earlier I had been studying here and how abrupt the change was from academics to reality. They brought in a soldier with three bullet wounds in his right arm and chest, and the man was in excruciating pain. While I attempted to assist the extremely self-sufficient thoracic surgeon as he inserted a chest catheter for drainage, I thought about this man on the table. I mean, a total stranger to me, and yet, an American who was willing to jeopardize his life not only for my personal safety but for the causes of our country.

These professional men, with their unspoken dedication to the United States and to our standards of freedom and democracy, have my great respect. My experience in Grenada, especially in the library medical unit, has reaffirmed my personal dedication to medicine and my commitment to complete my education. But it has also reaffirmed my faith and respect in the citizens of our country, especially those citizens in the military. As a representative of St. George's University School of Medicine, I would like to thank President Reagan and the military for their concern for our personal safety and to say that among such company, I am proud to be an American.

Roxana Mehran. President Reagan, the honorable military, and the student body:

On behalf of the students of St. George's University School of Medicine, I would like to present you with this small token of our appreciation for saving our lives. To the United States military and you, President Reagan, in appreciation for your prompt action that guaranteed our safe return from Grenada, from the students of St. George's University School of Medicine.

The President. I proudly accept that, only as the acceptor, in the realization that it goes to the men and women in uniform in our armed services.

Jay More. President Reagan, on behalf of the students, the very grateful students, of St. George's University School of Medicine who appreciate both your rescue mission in Grenada and your continued support for all citizens pursuing their American dream, we give you a plaque in the shape of the United States for bringing us home to America. We thank you.

The President. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:45 a.m. on the South Lawn of the White House.

Prior to the ceremony, the President met in the Oval Office with student representatives from St. George's University School of Medicine.