Remarks to Veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima

February 19, 1985

Thank you very much. That's quite a reception for a horse cavalryman and a Navy flyboy. [Laughter]

Well, at dawn, 40 years ago today, 450 United States Navy ships stood off a tiny island in the Pacific. Few Americans had heard of the place. It measured 4\2/3\ miles by 2\1/2\ miles, ash-covered beaches and one extinct, unknown volcano. And at 7 o'clock, 0700 hours to you, a command was passed to the ships: Land the landing force!

No one, not even you, the marines and the Navy corpsmen who stepped ashore from the Amtracs at 2 minutes after 9, knew that what you were about to do would forever enshrine the island, Iwo Jima, and the volcano, Mount Suribachi, in American history.

Today Iwo Jima is remembered with other names like Saratoga, the Alamo, Gettysburg -- remembered, not simply because Americans were again conspicuously gallant in battle, but because our sons were called upon to endure unspeakable hardship for the sake of freedom.

Every one of you present today, and all of you 40 years ago, have a special place in our nation's heart, reserved only for the few in every generation called upon to sacrifice themselves so that a great nation's ideals of freedom and peace may live and prosper and endure. The manner of your performance -- as captured in Joe Rosenthal's photo of your flag-raising at Mount Suribachi -- remains a beacon, indeed a birthright, for America's young people and for every future American.

The other day, I came across a description of Iwo written by the then-Private First Class Russell Werts. And it ended in the following note: ``. . . our troopship started to pull away from Iwo and head for Guam. As I stood by the rail and watched the little island fade in the distance, a feeling of loneliness came over me. It was as if a part of me was left behind, as if an Iowa farm boy was waving goodbye. We would never meet again. Somewhere in that jagged jungle of rocks, he forever walked with the ghosts of Iwo. . . .''

Well, I would like to say to Russell, and to each of you who willingly gave your youth to the Nation, that you receive in kind a place in the American heart and the national memory that endures so long as this nation and the ideals for which it stands endure. We're very grateful to you.

And we're deeply honored to have you here today. The White House really belongs to the American people. And I couldn't help but reflect today that seldom in history has any President been in the company of more deserving Americans.

I hope that each of you enjoyed being here as much as Nancy and I am delighted to have you. And on behalf of all Americans, we salute today, you, the men of Iwo. God bless all of you.

Note: The President spoke to former members of the 28th Marine Regiment at 4:45 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening remarks, the President referred to his own and the Vice President's military service.