Freedoms Foundation remembers
President George H.W. Bush, trustee and honorary chairman
Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge was proud to have President George Herbert Walker Bush serve as its honorary chairman, and in that role he sent letters of encouragement to the Foundation’s chapter volunteers at their annual gathering in Pennsylvania.
Before that, while the nation’s vice president, Bush served as a member of the Foundation’s Council of Trustees. He delivered the keynote address for the Foundation’s awards luncheon in Washington, D.C., on June 10, 1982. The distinguished award recipients were Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose National Service Medal was presented by Sen. Barry Goldwater, and the Special Olympics Committee. The George Washington Honor Medal was presented to Edwin J. Feulner Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation. The ceremony was held in the Senate Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building.
The text of his final letter to volunteers and his awards speech follow.
September 10, 1992
I am pleased to send greetings to all those who are gathered for the 25th Annual Fall Volunteer Leadership Conference sponsored by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. Congratulations on this milestone.
This year, Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, the cherished emblem of the United States. Every day, in communities across the country, members of the Freedoms Foundation strive to uphold the ideals set forth in that pledge by promoting patriotism and community service. As the Honorary Chairman of this fine organization, I am particularly proud of its efforts to champion the cause of good citizenship through the generous support of literacy and youth programs. By giving of your time, talent, and energy for the benefit of others, each of you exemplifies the best in American volunteerism, and I commend you for all that you have done to make ours a Nation “with liberty and justice for all.”
Barbara joins me in sending best wishes for a memorable conference.
June 10, 1982
You know, this is about the first time in months that my audience has outnumbered my Secret Service detail.
I’m just delighted to be here to join you in congratulating the winners of your fine award — or the fine winners of your award, whichever way you want to put it.
You’ll be hearing the citations shortly, so I won’t go into very great detail myself about the admiration I have for Justice O’Connor and for the Special Olympics Committee, for the National Coalition for Growth and the Heritage Foundation, that bastion of supply siders on the Potomac. My deepest congratulations to all of you.
You know, I had the occasion not long ago to read a lecture given by Dr. Russell Kirk at the Heritage Foundation. It was titled “Audacity, Rhetoric, and Poetry in Politics.” It was one of those characteristically breathtaking Kirkian sweeps through Western civilization. This one took as its premise that audacity is at the heart of truly exciting and vital political movements. And indeed, that almost nothing is possible without it. Dr. Kirk dismissed with a cursory wave of his hand the prediction of some for the middle of the road. He quoted Richard Weaver’s rhetorical admonition, “Do you drive in the middle of the road?” (I forget which senator it was who said that all one finds in the middle of the road are yellow lines and run-over jackrabbits.)
Dr. Kirk quoted from Danton, T.S. Eliot, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Disraeli — I think Dr. Kirk could probably quote from Disraeli in his sleep. The line I best recall was Disraeli’s. “Success is the Child of Audacity.” And it’s that idea that we might meditate on for a few moments today. Because we’ve come here to honor audacious, and therefore successful, people.
Too often we tend to associate bravery, courage, audacity, and patriotism with aspects of war. At the same time, I don’t think any of us can have been untouched by reading the account of Mrs. Reagan laying a wreath the other day at the graves of American soldiers who died at the Normandy Beachhead. How grim those statistics still are. Over 10,000 American boys killed in the invasion, the invasion which made possible the liberation of Europe. Their audacity took the form of crashing through bullet-ridden surf, jumping out of planes into almost certain death. Well, there were 10,000 forms of audacity shown during those days.
But what I have in mind today is the audacity of peacetime, the other thousand forms of sacrifice shown by heroes and patriots whose names, most of them, we do not know, and would not recognize. This is why occasions such as this, and awards such as these, should be taken seriously. And it is to the credit of the Freedoms Foundation that it has brought about these occasions, occasions which honor — well, patriots. One does not have to die gallantly on a beach somewhere to be a patriot.
I think through the years we’ve seen a changing definition of the term. During our last, traumatic decade of Vietnam and Watergate, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that there just weren’t any heroes any more. The interesting thing about conventional wisdom is that — to paraphrase Voltaire — it is neither conventional, nor wise. What happened, I think, was that, given the mordant cynicism of the decade, heroes were no longer fashionable. Ah — but there were still heroes. And now I think they may be back in fashion. They may look a bit different from yesterday’s heroes. But there they are — and some of them are in this room with us today.
Now, any organization that maintains its national headquarters at Valley Forge can be accused of being slightly old fashioned. But I also think that being a bit old fashioned is itself coming back into fashion. This is — heavens — not to say that America is turning to its past, reverting, regressing, or going back to her old ways.
We may simply be drawing once again on some of our more traditional values, the importance of the family, of national defense, of the volunteer spirit, of vigorous free enterprise, and of government that truly serves the people and views that service as its fundamental mission. These are values that sustain us, even as we enter new periods of history that demand change. In that lecture of his, Dr. Kirk quotes a line of Robert Frost’s poem “The Black Cottage”:
Most of the change we seen in life
Is due to truths being in and out of favor.
The Freedoms Foundation, and those it honors with these awards, reminds us that whatever the times bring — whatever turbulence, whatever hot passions, or heated rhetoric — that some truths are never out of favor, and that our successes are due to the courage of patriots, even quiet ones. The memory of Valley Forge is strong. But it is good also to contemplate what Henry Ward Beecher wrote some time ago, that “The world’s battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet, than on the most memorable battlefields in history.”
Thank you, and once again, congratulations to you all.
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