Remarks Following Investiture as an Honorary Member of the Society of the Cincinnati

February 21, 1983

Thank you, sir, and thank all of you. I am very proud to become an honorary member of the Society of Cincinnati. I know the story that was told here tonight of Cincinnatus, who was called from his farm by the people of Rome to lead them against the invaders. And after he defeated the enemy, grateful Romans offered him power and privilege, but he refused all honors and retired to his farm. I know there are a great many people today who hope I'll soon follow that example -- [laughter] -- and return to my ranch. But, of course, this society was named because of the parallel between Cincinnatus and the farmer of Mount Vernon, George Washington.

In 1775 Washington went to Philadelphia to represent Virginia in the Second Continental Congress. And we all know of the events that occurred in Philadelphia, events that changed the course of history. Six long years passed before Washington was again able to return to Mount Vernon for a brief stay on his way to Yorktown. And it took another 2 years before he was able to resign his commission and return to the civilian life of a farmer.

He was again called to Philadelphia, this time for the Constitutional Convention. And then for another 8 years he led his nation -- not as a general, but as the President. In 1797, when he retired at last to his beloved Mount Vernon, he must have felt the deepest satisfaction from knowing that he'd served his country in every capacity it had asked of him.

There's a story -- I don't know how well known; maybe it is well known to all of you because of your membership here -- but of a dinner at Mount Vernon, when Lafayette asked him why it was that Americans seemed to be able to retain their good nature and to laugh even in times of strain and stress. And he asked what caused that. And Washington's answer, I thought, was something not profound or great -- very simple. ``Well,'' he said, ``maybe it's because here there's room for a man to be alone.'' And he said, ``And we have friends who want nothing of us except friendship.''

Well, his is a story of unselfish service which all schoolchildren -- and all adults, for that matter -- should carry in their hearts. Your ancestors, the commissioned officers who fought in the Revolution, sacrificed as well. Many of them had served 7 or 8 years, leaving families behind and, as has been said, yes, the officers went a number of years without being paid. But what's more, they and their men fought with a great deal of courage with few supplies and little equipment. I wonder if maybe that's where we got a heritage that Churchill called attention to in World War II when he said of our young men -- and all of us should be proud of this -- he said, ``They seem to be the only men in the world that can laugh and fight at the same time.''

Well, currently this nation is debating the '84 defense budget, which is far different from the one in Washington's day. Today we speak in billions, not thousands, and talk not of muskets, but of MX's. And yet, the ends are the same: to secure liberty and peace for the United States and her citizens. And I want you, the descendants of those colonial officers, to know that I will fight to ensure that today's military officers and troops are given what they need to defend themselves and their country.

We cannot let the threat we face be minimized by a budget deficit, serious as that deficit is. Our country has a genuine, compelling defense need, and all of the needs must be met. To echo the words of Washington, ``There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.''

The values and valor of those Continental soldiers helped to release the freedom this blessed nation now enjoys. The vigilance and training of today's soldiers keep that freedom secure. Yes, meeting the defense budget calls for sacrificing other ways we might like to spend those funds. But this is a small sacrifice compared to that of America's colonial citizens. They paid with their blood and long years of hardship.

I've said before I believe this land was set aside in an uncommon way, that some divine plan must have placed this continent here between the oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth, but who had one thing in common, and that was a special love of faith and freedom and peace.

I know these are the very bonds that guide the Society of Cincinnati, and I'm honored, greatly honored, more than I can say, to be a member, even honorary, of that society.

I thank you. And God bless your brave ancestors, God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 6:30 p.m. at Anderson House, the national headquarters of the society. He was introduced by John S. du Mont, president general of the society.