Remarks at the Tomb of Lafayette

Paris, France | July 4, 1969

We honor all men and women who in the words of President Kennedy are willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Marquis de Lafayette was twenty years old when he volunteered to help my countrymen.

By coincidence, this week ten young French women are leaving for the United States, not as tourists, not simply as students for a summer abroad, but like Lafayette as volunteers to help my country with some of our problems.

Each will work with the mentally retarded in the United States. Each will make the journey at her own expense and each will work side by side with American volunteers. Their example is a tribute to the Marquis de Lafayette who put into action the words we say today. Lafayette was indeed a man of action. He did not simply talk about revolution. He did not just preach about it, but by action and deed he committed his body to freedom.

Because of this we do not today simply honor a man and a memory of valor. We honor more.

We honor all men and women who in the words of President Kennedy are willing to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Here at this gravesite beneath the windswept flags of two great nations, we pause not to remember just a struggle which historians have called the American Revolution. For this struggle only happened to be in a place called America. In the same way the institutions for the mentally retarded in which the young French will be working, only happen to be in a place called America.

Both these efforts were and are part of the revolution and evolution of the freedom of man, Lafayette knew this and that is why he came, A German named von Steuben knew it and a Pole named Kosciusko knew it.

The battle names were Brandywine and Trenton, Norfolk and Yorktown. But the battlefield was that universal soil wherever the human spirit is fettered and wherever opportunity is denied.

For the struggle in which Lafayette so gallantly participated neither began on July 4, 1776, nor ended five years later.

The struggle for freedom continues today in nations whose people are not free and within free nations where the few do not share the opportunity of the many.

It no longer needs to be fought with cutlass and cannon. But the combat and the conquest require the same courage, the same intellect, the same commitment, the same inspiration which were so much a part of the Marquis de Lafayette when he sailed for a New World.

The ten young women who are retracing his journey almost 300 years later are part of the same struggle for freedom. The American Peace Corps volunteer in French speaking African is part of the same battle. The young French students working with Aide a Toute Detresse in the Bidonvilles are part of the same struggle.

"The ideals on which our nation was founded" President Nixon said in his special message today, "are constantly renewed with each generation."

It is this struggle for freedom which is symbolically interwoven among the vines of this wreath and because of it, before the tomb of this great soldier, it permits us to blend history with hope.