Remarks to Marine Corps Basic Training Graduates in Parris Island, South Carolina

June 4, 1986

I wonder if you have any idea what this means to a former second lieutenant of horse cavalry. [Laughter] It's wonderful to be with you here on Parris Island. You'll notice we brought some rain with us. While that might cancel out the A-frame exercise for you marines, the farmers of South Carolina, I have to tell you, ordered it up; and so I had to comply. Of course, I didn't have to do the ``slide for life'' -- [laughter] -- I only had to watch. But it was fascinating to see your obstacle course and the ``slide for life.'' It reminded me of trying to get a bill through Congress. [Laughter] We don't have an alligator or sand fleas, but we got some people in Washington who could double for them in a pinch. [Laughter]

But since this is the Marine Corps and it was supposed to be real hot here, I planned to keep my remarks short -- no more than an hour or so. [Laughter] Seriously, I'm glad you're not all standing at attention. One time I addressed a group of marines. I told them a favorite joke of mine, and I was a bit disappointed when they didn't laugh. And I thought maybe I'd gotten the delivery wrong or they didn't quite understand it or something. And then the commanding officer leaned over to me and whispered that they're standing at attention, they're not permitted to laugh. So, just to play it safe: At ease, and feel free to laugh. That's an order! [Laughter]

Seriously, I couldn't be happier than to be here. The recruitment posters say they're looking for a few good men, and I can see here today they've found them -- and I shouldn't leave out the women. This is about the finest bunch of leathernecks I have ever seen. Well, the few and the proud -- the Marines have always exemplified those cardinal virtues of duty to country, honor, and bravery. Since the beginning of the corps at Philadelphia's Tun Tavern in 1775, marines have always been on the frontlines of freedom. Often the first into battle, the first to fight for right and freedom -- on land, on the sea, and in the air, in every corner of the world -- you've been there when your country needed you.

You know, you and I are basically in the same business. Each day of my Presidency I work to keep our nation strong and secure so that we may always remain free and at peace. And each day you follow one of the most difficult but noble callings: the calling of freedom fighters and peacemakers. And that's why I wanted to come here today to talk to you about this country of ours -- where we've been, where we're going, and how we can make sure that the future for Americans is one of a prosperous nation in a peaceful world. The news about our country today is good, and it's getting better. Pride is back. Patriotism is fashionable once again. We've taken our Armed Forces, which had suffered neglect and budget cuts for too many years, and gotten them back in shape -- given them a little PT [physical training], you might say. We've restored our military to what it ought to be: combat-ready and fighting-fit, the strongest, proudest military for the strongest, proudest nation on Earth. And we've got to keep it that way.

Morale is up -- way up -- in the services, and the quality of recruits -- I can tell you now and proven by actual figures -- has never been higher. And you can see that here today. And I can tell you nothing makes me prouder than to see the fine young men and women in uniform, so ready and eager to serve their country. Ernie Pyle, the famous war correspondent in World War II, reflected on the Marine Corps spirit. He wrote that he never did find out what perpetuated it. But he concluded: A marine just plain ``considers himself a better soldier than anybody else.'' Well, Ernie Pyle didn't just admire marines; he died with many of them on a terrible campaign called Okinawa, a campaign of bloodshed and valor for the men of the globe and anchor.

You are the inheritors of that tradition. You carry on. You know, sometimes I'd like to take some of those people in Washington who are always trying to cut defense spending and bring them here to Parris Island -- or to Fort Jackson, Orlando, or Lackland. And I'd tell them these are the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who are putting their lives on the line to keep America free. And if we ever must send our young service people into harm's way, then it is our moral duty to give them absolutely the best equipment and support that America can muster. And I promise that I -- and I'm sure I'm speaking for others here on this platform -- will fight as hard as I know how to make sure you get the support that you deserve. And to all of those who say that we must always cut defense first, that America can't afford a strong military, I have just one thing to say: Tell it to the Marines!

So, America is back. America's military is back and standing tall. And our economy is on a record-setting roll. Most important, like in the Marines, morale is way up in America. We've developed an esprit de corps that can't be beat. There was a time, less than a decade ago, when America's leaders cowered before a future that looked to them dark and threatening and out of control. Well, no longer. The future is an open vista of expanding opportunities, and Americans are just itching to take on the challenge of tomorrow. You, the recruits of Parris Island, are part of the rising generation that will be meeting those challenges. The future of America is in your hands. Whatever path in life you've chosen -- whether in the military or some other profession -- as Americans, you carry a special responsibility. Just as in the Marines, the pride of being an American goes hand in hand with duties and responsibilities -- the duties and responsibilities of citizenship and preserving and defending democracy.

Good citizenship is vitally important if democracy is to survive and flourish. It means keeping abreast of the important issues of the day and knowing the stakes involved in the great conflicts of our time. It means bearing arms when necessary to fight for your country, for right, and for freedom. Good citizenship and defending democracy means living up to the ideals and values that make this country great. Today the world looks to America for leadership. They look to what they call our miracle economy for an answer to how they may give their people a better life. And they look to our courage and might to protect them from the forces of tyranny, brutality, and injustice.

I believe we've accomplished too much over the past 6 years in rebuilding our defense to see it all undone through shortsighted cuts in the budget. The true measure of our resolve is not only our willingness to make the great sacrifices necessary in war but also our willingness to invest a modest level of resources in peacetime to deter war in the first place. America is today reaffirming her proud role as a leader of the free world. We've learned something about leadership here on Parris Island. And in the same way that your DI [drill instructor] instills in his recruits leadership by example, America must lead the world by example -- by always remaining true to her ideals.

You marines know better than anyone that staying true to your ideals isn't always the easiest course. It isn't always the most comfortable or even the safest way. And sometimes it's a lot like that confidence course: There are hurdles and obstacles, and sometimes you just have to hold on for dear life. But America didn't become great because we took the easy road. America's great because of men and women like you -- men and women with big hearts and strong minds and with courage beyond the usual measure. You know, someone wisely said that a hero isn't really braver than anyone else; he's just brave 5 minutes longer than anyone else. And it's because of you that America's future will be big and strong and generous and full of hope and fighting spirit. It's because of you that we can be sure that America will be ``Semper Fidelis'' -- always faithful to her best hopes and highest ideals.

And now, it gives me great pleasure to say just one final thing: Graduates of platoons 1044, 1045, 1046, and 1047, it's my privilege today to be the first to address you as marines, for marines you are and marines you always will be. Congratulations, and God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. at the headquarters building. Prior to his remarks, he reviewed marines participating in training exercises. Following his remarks, he attended a reception for honor graduates and Families of the Year. The President then traveled to Greensboro, NC.