Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Young American Medals for Bravery and Service

 

November 13, 1987

 

Attorney General Meese, Director Sessions, distinguished guests: Welcome to the White House. We're here today to honor some very special young Americans: the winners of the 1985 and 1986 Young American Medals for Bravery and Service.

 

A few years ago, it was fashionable in the media and the universities to say that America had no more heroes. Heroism was a thing of the past, we were told, as old and dry as a fossil in Death Valley. Fashions often run together, and this one galloped side by side with the death-of-God vogue. I seem to remember that the argument was that if God was dead nothing anyone could do was important enough to be called heroic. Well, I've never believed that either God or American heroism was dead.

 

This land of freedom was built, and is still being built, by men and women who, without chroniclers, without heralds, have brought a warrior's courage to the challenges of everyday life. America is a land of heroes.

 

Today we honor six young Americans who have shown the physical, moral, or intellectual courage, yes, the selflessness and concern for others that we call heroism. I thought I'd tell you something about each one of them.

 

I mentioned moral courage -- taking a stand out of the ordinary because that's what you believe is right. Linda Warsaw has that kind of courage. When Linda was 11, she began volunteering with her mother at the San Bernardino County Victim-Witness Advocacy Program. Files that passed through her hands were like a window for her into the criminal justice system. Soon she was attending trials. Much of what she saw -- child abuse cases, criminals going unpunished -- she didn't like. She conceived of an anticrime organization that would be run by and for children. Started 2 years ago when Linda was 13, Kids Against Crime now teaches hundreds of children and adults in southern California communities how to protect themselves against molesters and others who may prey on them.

 

Moral courage -- that's also why Carla Swanson has been asked here today. Carla organized the Just Say No club at her high school in Warwick, Rhode Island. She also directs a program to promote the idea that it's okay not to drink. These haven't always been popular causes at school. One of Carla's advisers has said, ``She is a fish going upstream, and everyone says she's going the wrong way.'' Her adviser adds, Carla's ``direction and intention are clear, and she is succeeding.''

 

Angel Rafael Guerra-Torres has another kind of courage -- intellectual courage -- the courage to pursue a new idea, to think in new ways, not to be bound by conventional wisdom. Angel developed, as a science fair project, an experiment to demonstrate how the growth of a type of cancer cell could be inhibited by broccoli. This experiment won him first place in the medical health category of the 37th International Science and Engineering Fair. Angel's prizes include an invitation to represent Puerto Rican youth at the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Sweden.

 

Linda and Angel are the winners of the 1986 Young American Medal for Service. Carla is the winner of the 1985 Medal. Linda, Angel, Carla, congratulations!

 

Three of those with us today have displayed great personal courage. At moments when life and death hung in the balance, they were ready to risk their lives that others might live.

 

Just over a year ago, Denise Shattuck and four friends were driving home from a field hockey game when their car hit a tree. Denise was thrown from the car and hurt her head. The car's driver was alive but trapped behind the wheel with a smashed hip, and the car was on fire. Denise ignored her own injuries, ran back to the burning car, pulled the driver out through a broken window, and dragged and carried her to safety.

 

In March of 1986, Kimberlee Rush, then 17, was babysitting for two toddlers when a truck with a 20-ton load lost its brakes, sped downhill, and crashed into the house she was in. As the floor collapsed beneath the truck, gas lines ruptured, and a huge hole was left between the room Kimberlee had been in and the room the children were in. Kimberlee could have left the house. Instead, she crawled into the hole, through the gas fumes, and back up to the frightened children. Then she broke through a window to lead them out of the house.

 

Finally, on a February night 2 years ago, Mindy Clark was in bed when she heard her two-year-old brother, Justin, crying as he climbed the stairs. As Mindy got out of bed, she noticed the floor was hot. The house was on fire. Mindy gathered Justin, her other brother, and sister together. After a struggle, she opened her window and led them out onto the plastic porch roof, only to realize that Justin hadn't followed. Back into the heat and smoke of the burning house Mindy went and finally found Justin hiding in fear under her own bed. She carried him out to the roof, which was beginning to melt, and led her brothers and sister to safety.

 

Kimberlee and Denise are the winners of the 1986 Young American Medal for Bravery. Mindy is the winner of the 1985 Medal. You are young women of extraordinary courage, and it's an honor to have you here today at the White House.

 

I've heard talk from some in the press who ought to know better that this is the ``me'' age: everyone out to get his or hers. These young people and others like them are my reply to those commentators. There is a heart in America -- a good, deep, loving, and true heart. It's always been part of our land, from the time the pilgrims first bowed their heads to thank the Lord for His bounty to this day. You only need eyes to see and ears to hear, for there are signs of the love, the courage, the hope, and the generosity of the American heart at every bend in every road, and there is the music of its song in every community throughout our land. To all of you awardees here today, let me say thank you for helping us see those signs and hear that music.

 

Thank you, and God bless you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 1:20 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Attorney General Edwin Meese III and William S. Sessions, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.