Remarks at a White House Ceremony Marking the First Anniversary of the Grenada Rescue Mission

October 24, 1984

The President. Well, good afternoon. I just flew in from Columbus. But I want to welcome to the White House this impressive delegation of American students who were on Grenada at the time of the rescue mission last year. I know many of you came to see us last year, also, and I am especially happy to have you here with us again. And I also want to welcome Ambassador Xavier of Grenada and our other distinguished guests.

Together we celebrate today, with joy, an anniversary of honor for America -- your rescue and the liberation of our neighbor, Grenada, from the grip of oppression and tyranny. Just 1 year ago, Grenada's Governor General Paul Scoon and members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States called for our help.

Using military force is, I'm sure you realize, the most serious decision any President must make. It's an awesome responsibility. But the evidence to me was clear. At stake was the freedom of 110,000 Grenadians, the security of the democracies of the Eastern Caribbean and, most important, the safety and well-being of you American medical students trapped by events that were totally beyond your control. So, we approved a military operation to rescue you, to help the people of Grenada, and to prevent the spread of chaos and totalitarianism throughout the Caribbean.

Side by side, with forces from neighboring Caribbean democracies, the brave young soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen accomplished their mission. They went to Grenada not to conquer, but to liberate, and they did. They saved the people, they captured tons of Soviet military equipment, and they averted a hostage crisis before it happened. And then those combat troops left the island so the Grenadian people could start a new life and give peace, freedom, and democracy, and self-determination a chance.

But today over 100,000 Soviet troops are still ravaging Afghanistan. There is a fundamental moral distinction between the Grenada rescue mission and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- a brutal and bloody conquest that aims to destroy freedom, democracy, and self-determination. It's the difference between totalitarianism and democracy, between tyranny and freedom. And it gives all of us hope for the future to know that you see the difference that others should have seen from the very beginning.

During the latter part of the 1970's, America passed through a period of self-doubt and national confusion. We talked and acted like a nation in decline, and the world believed us. Many questioned our will to continue as a leader of the Western alliance and to remain a force for good in the world. But I believe this period of self-doubt is over. History will record that one of the turning points came on a small island in the Caribbean where America went to take care of her own and to rescue a neighboring nation from a growing tyranny.

Our brave military personnel displayed the same love of liberty and personal courage which has made our nation great and kept her free. And this courage and love of country is also what we saw in Beirut at virtually the same time. And we will always honor those brave Americans. Let no one doubt that those brave men were heroes every bit as much in their peacekeeping mission as were our men in the rescue mission in Grenada.

And we continue to see this devotion and commitment every day. On the demilitarized zone in Korea, on the NATO lines in Europe, at bases from Diego Garcia to Guam, and on our ships at sea, young Americans are proudly wearing the uniform of our country and serving with the same distinction as those who came before.

Cicero once said, ``Courage is that virtue which champions the cause of the right.'' Well, with us today is a small contingent of military personnel, a few of the heroes who took part in the rescue mission -- two each, from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. And four of these brave young Americans are here with me on the podium, and the other four are sitting among the students that they rescued. So, I thank them for joining us today, and thank all of you. We're very grateful to all of you.

Also here on the podium is Miss Kathleen Major, who was a medical student and registered nurse 1 year ago. And when the fighting erupted, she immediately went to work treating the wounded. And, Miss Major, we thank you. It was good of you to come today.

Nineteen brave men died during the Grenada rescue, serving their country and the cause of freedom. One of them was Sean Luketina. He was a paratrooper seriously wounded by a rocket. He was evacuated to Puerto Rico, and there in the hospital slipped in and out of a coma. His father, Colonel Robin Luketina, a retired military officer who's here with us today, rushed to his bedside. And Colonel Luketina, I'm told that on one of those moments when your son regained consciousness, you asked him, ``Sean, was it worth it?'' And ``Yes, Dad,'' he answered. And you asked again, ``Would you do it again?'' And he looked up at you and said, ``Hell, yes, Dad.'' A few months ago, Sean died of his wounds. But he, Sean Luketina, gave his life in the cause of freedom. He did not die in vain. The young Americans he helped to rescue know that. The liberated people of Grenada know that. Grenada's neighbors know that. And Sean himself knows. So, let us honor him as he would have wished, by keeping faith with the policy of peace and deterrence that assures the survival of our freedom, keeps alive the hope of freedom for all the peoples of the world. This is the meaning of peace through strength. And let us always remember that America is the land of the free, because we're the home of the brave.

To Sean and all the men and women who served the cause of freedom, and to all of you, all of you students who are dedicating yourselves to saving human life: you are the hope of America. You are all America's future. Thank you for what you do, and God bless you.

Mr. Geller. President Reagan, distinguished members of the military, honored guests: It was a year ago that I stood at this podium and spoke about the Grenada evacuation. I spoke about how proud we were when the U.S. Army Rangers and other members of the military rescued us on the island of Grenada. I spoke about how happy we were to realize that America had not forgotten us and how proud we were to be Americans.

The decision to invade Grenada was a tough one. It was a decision that called for quick and decisive action by a true leader. I want to thank you, Mr. President, once again for making that decision. Yes, it's been a year now since we left Grenada, and hardly a day goes by when I don't think about what went on there.

I think about our soldiers, the Navy Seals, the Air Force, the Marines, the Army Rangers, and the 82d Airborne. You know, all of the men who fought down there in Grenada are different. Some are tall, some are short, some are white, and some are black. They all have one thing in common, and that's conviction.

They all had the courage and conviction to stand up and fight for what they believe and for what America believes, as well. I want to tell America and all the students in America that the lessons we have learned in Grenada shall not be forgotten, that the Americans that died in Grenada did not die in vain. We, the students of St. George's University, have returned to become teachers for 2 days, to remind the citizens of America that we cannot forget that lesson, that freedom is just too precious, too valuable, to be taken for granted, and that we must stand up and protect that right whenever and wherever necessary.

President Reagan, you came to our aid when our freedom was in jeopardy. You made us proud to be Americans. On behalf of the students assembled here today, I'd like to thank you and all four branches of the Armed Forces for being there when we needed you. Thank you.

Ms. Major. President Reagan, members of the military, and honored guests: The events of Grenada are now a part of history, but our feelings will always remain alive inside of us. I can never forget the feeling of intense fear and the sense of relief when I first saw our Americans. I hope I never forget the feelings of pride and admiration for the finest military on the face of the Earth -- the American military -- and also my gratitude to their Commander in Chief, who made a most courageous decision. And, finally, I hope I never forget to say how proud I am to be an American.

President Reagan, it is with great honor I present this plaque, which reads, ``October 25, 1984: In grateful appreciation to President Ronald Reagan for your decisive leadership which resulted in the liberation of Grenada and restored to us our freedom and our future. Presented on the first anniversary of the liberation of Grenada by the American students who were rescued that day.''

Dr. Modica. Mr. President, as you know, I was probably the first person to voice reservations about your decision to go ahead with the rescue mission in Grenada last year. I know I certainly was the most publicized. During my State Department briefing the following day, I realized there were factors unknown to me which required that you make a tough and immediate decision. I then felt it my duty to publicly acknowledge the necessity of the mission, and I did so upon leaving the State Department that very day. I have realized over the past year that you have taken the greatest risk of your political career when you made the decision to act, rather than to ignore the plight of our students and the call for help from six Caribbean nations.

You had little to gain in taking military action, as the people of our nation have become increasingly unsupportive of such actions over the past decade. Had the mission failed in any way, you would have shouldered the entire blame. Recently we've been hearing a lot about leadership and strong leadership in recent weeks. The very definition of strong leadership is exemplified by your decisive action in Grenada. No wonder our renewed national pride has emerged from your ability to take action when necessary.

I know you will want to remember those brave men who gave their lives in the Grenada rescue mission. This replica of the memorial that will be unveiled on our Grenada campus October 29th bears the names of each of those fine young men who gave their lives. On behalf of its cosponsors, St. George's University, and the parents network of St. George's University, I am proud and honored to present it to you as our Commander in Chief.

The President. Thank you very much. But I came all the way back here from Columbus to honor all of you. [Laughter] And I'm deeply grateful. And you brought this on yourselves now. I know I've told this many times but, you know, when you get past 40, you have a tendency to tell the same story over and over again. [Laughter]

I just have to tell you a little story about Grenada here, and then I will get back to the office and go to work. This young lieutenant marine, flying a Cobra helicopter, was at Grenada and then went on to Beirut. And from Beirut he wrote back to the Pentagon to the Armed Forces Journal, and he said that there was one thing in all the news stories about Grenada that was so consistent and so repeated that he decided it was a code, and he was going to break the code.

That line was that Grenada produces more nutmeg than any other spot on Earth. [Laughter] So, he said, in breaking the code, number one, that is true -- they produce more nutmeg than any other spot on Earth. He said, number two, the Soviets and the Cubans are trying to take Grenada. And number three, you can't have good eggnog without nutmeg. [Laughter] And number four, you can't have Christmas without eggnog. And number five, the Soviets and the Cubans were trying to steal Christmas. [Laughter] And number six, we stopped them. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 3:30 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Albert Xavier is the Ambassador of Grenada to the Organization of American States, Charles R. Modica is the chancellor of St. George's University School of Medicine, and Jeffrey Geller is a medical student at the university who was rescued during the mission.