SPEECH: Patriotic Exercises
221st Bristol ParadeAs Prepared for DeliveryToday, Bristol commemorates and celebrates the birth of our freedom and the beginning of our nation. For 221 years, Bristoleans have gathered to remember the brave deeds that purchased our freedom and the brave deeds over two centuries that have sustained our freedom.Bristol is remarkable not only for the longevity of its observances unmatched by any other community in America, but also for the pride and profound patriotism of its celebration.This is a community that once a year becomes the heart of America and a symbol of the faith and the commitment that has allowed this nation to endure and prosper.Our freedom was won in battle and preserved through continued sacrifice. And, so it is fitting that we salute those who have served.We are in the presence of many who have served and who continue to serve.I am continually impressed with the young Americans who wear the uniform of our armed forces. Their fidelity to duty, their willingness to risk all for their country and their innate decency are inspirational.They are, in turn, inspired by generations of Americans who preceded them. The legacy of courage and service represented by so many here is one of the most powerful forces that support their efforts today. At its birth, America represented a new and breathtaking idea: A free people could organize itself based on Constitutional principles; not on ethnicity or traditional loyalty to a king or sovereign. In America, the people were sovereign. We understand today that the original outline of our Constitutional order did not embrace all the people of America, nor did it fully empower every American. But, the genius and the glory of our country is that succeeding generations have built upon the vision of the founding fathers to seek a more perfect union. This process continues today, or, as Roger Williams might have said, the lively experiment continues.Today, we are once again being tested as a nation and as a people. The agonizing moments of 9-11 demonstrated that we are in a worldwide struggle with ruthless adversaries and that we are vulnerable here as well as across the oceans.For me, there is one enduring image from 9-11. It stays with me. It is not the image of the burning towers or the broken Pentagon. Rather, it is an image contained in a news photo of one New York City firefighter climbing the stairs of the World Trade Center to an uncertain fate as scores of office workers filed past him down the stairs to safety. Like that firefighter, it is our moment and our duty to climb those stairs. It is our obligation to defend the nation and preserve our national principles. And, what upsets our adversaries is not just our power but also our principles, the notion that government is not ordained from on high but is the act of people coming together to chose their leaders, that the measure of a person is not gender or race or sectarian belief but an understanding that we are all children of God and we are all entitled to share in shaping the future.We are truly engaged in a battle of ideas, not simply a battle of military dimensions. And in such a battle, we cannot surrender our principles. Indeed, we must insist that we remain a nation of laws that also respects international norms. We must maintain our commitment to a democracy that respects individual rights while insisting upon individual responsibility. Our example, our deeds, rather than mere words, will inspire not only admiration throughout the world but imitation.At another moment of great challenge, President Lincoln struggled to preserve the nation and its noblest values. On one occasion, soldiers from an Ohio Regiment paid tribute to the President by an impromptu evening serenade. The President, moved by the warmth and sincerity of these soldiers, spoke to them. He asked them to rise up to a generation worthy of the sacrifice of so many and to dedicate themselves to the task of giving every American a fair chance in the race of life. Lincolns words speak to us today as we face daunting challenges. We too must rise up to a generation worthy of the sacrifice of so many. We too must strive to build a nation where everyone has a fair chance in the race of life and to help build a world of peace and hope. And, like every other generation of Americans, we will not shrink from this challenge.Today, we remember. We remember the great deeds that won our freedom, the wise deliberations that shaped our Constitution, the scores of battles across our land and across the globe that preserved this remarkable country. We remember parades of the past; pleasant summer days secure in the embrace of family and friends.We especially remember those who have served and sacrificed. As often as I can, I try to visit soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. It is a humbling experience. As you see these young men and women overcome their injuries with a spirit of determination, you first ask yourself, What have we done to deserve such men and women? But then, you ask a more telling question, What must we do today and in the days ahead to deserve these patriots?As we remember, we must recommit ourselves to the great task of America, to build a just and decent society worthy of their great sacrifice.From this day, from Bristol, and these ceremonies, we renew our vow and pledge to defend our nation, to live up to its noblest principles and to make real the spirit and the promise of America in the days ahead.Thank you.