Remarks by John McCain at the 1988 Republican National Convention

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Remarks at the 1988 Republican National Convention  (1988) 
by John McCain

I was born into a family with a long military tradition. My grandfather attended the United States Naval Academy. My father attended the Naval Academy. And I attended the Naval Academy.

Even as Navy man, I will never forget my first visit to West Point and how impressed I was at its beauty, especially the Chapel. I vividly remember seeing a plaque on the wall of the Chapel inscribed with 156 names. These are the names of the young men who graduated from West Point in 1950.

That year, North Korea attacked South Korea, and these young men gave their lives in combat — in the defense of someone else's freedom. At the bottom of that plaque is the West Point motto: "Duty, Honor, Country."

"Duty, Honor, Country." Tonight let's reflect on those words and how they apply to us. Tonight lets reflect on those words and how they apply to us. Lets reflect on whether George Bush or Michael Dukakis can best carry forth those values.

Duty. We have a duty to leave our children a safer world than the one in which we live. That means eliminating the threat of nuclear war. Because of steadfast and consistent Reagan-Bush foreign policy, we have for the first time in history been able to negotiate a treaty that rids the world of entire generations of nuclear weapons.

Ronald Reagan and George Bush have brought us to the dawn of a new era of peace and security. In this Presidential race, George Bush alone has the experience and knowledge to continue the policy of a strong defense, coupled with a willingness to negotiate.

Michael Dukakis, like Jimmy Carter before him, clearly doesn't understand that. Michael Dukakis seems to believe that the Trident is a chewing gum, that the B-1 is a Vitamin pill, and that the Midgetman is anyone shorter than he is.

Duty. We have a duty to provide proper recognition and the earned benefits to the 27 million Americans who have honorably served this country. I think that it is disgraceful that not once in Atlanta — not once — did Michael Dukakis or Lloyd Bentsen even mention this nation's veterans. George Bush, a distinguished combat pilot in World War II, clearly understands our obligations to those who have served and sacrificed.

Duty. We have a duty to provide this nation with the strongest and most reliable defense establishment on earth. We can be satisfied with nothing less. Before you believe the rhetoric or the liberal left that your defense dollars have been wasted, conduct a little test.

Go out to the nearest military base or one of your navy ships. Ask the chief petty officers. Ask the master sergeants what they think of the Reagan-Bush defense program. First they will recall the 1970's when, under Jimmy Carter, we had guns that couldn't shoot, planes that couldn't fly, and ships that couldn't leave port because of the lack of spare parts and trained personnel. They will recall families of enlisted men on food stamps.

Then, they will tell you that today we have never had more highly qualified and motivated men and women serving in our military. And they are ready to defend our interests throughout the world - just as they did in our successful strike on Khadafy terrorism in Libya, which Michael Dukakis opposed; the rescue mission in Grenada, which Michael Dukakis did not support; and in our defense of the Persian Gulf which Michael Dukakis opposed — where there is now peace.

Under Ronald Reagan and George Bush, America has gone from a whipping boy and laughing stock of the world to a nation that inspires respect from our allies and restraint form our adversaries.

Duty, Honor, Country. Honor. It is honorable for Americans to help those struggling for their freedom throughout the world. From the shipyard workers fighting for solidarity at Gdansk to the freedom fighters in Afghanistan to the Cory Achene's of developing nations, we must support those struggling for their freedom because it is our heritage. Just as other nations supported our struggle for freedom over 200 years ago.

Honor. It is dishonorable for this nation to sell Central America down the river to communism. The Sandinistas, displaying their contempt for the church, the press, and every standard, of decency have crushed basic human rights and have violated the promises and commitments made in 1979, and of the Arias peace plan they signed last year.

Just as shameful is the conduct of the Speaker of the House, that best selling author Jim Wright, who thinks he is Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. Now it is time to give the freedom fighters the support and the where-with-all to bring justice and freedom to Nicaragua. Now it's time to stop the spread of communist subversion in Central America. And it is absolutely the time to stop the flow of Soviet and Cuban weapons into the Western Hemisphere.

Honor. It is honorable for this nation to erect a defensive shield to protect ourselves from offensive nuclear weapons. Think of what would happen if Colonel Khadafy or the Ayatollah were to acquire the means to deliver a nuclear weapon. We are totally defenseless against such an attack. And yet, Michael Dukakis opposes SDI, a system that will defend us against an accidental or deliberate nuclear attack.

Duty, Honor, Country. Country. We are a great country - the most wonderful in the world. A beacon of hope for millions who live in darkness and despair. Pride in the flag that surrounds us tonight is essential to a president. It is outrageous that Governor Dukakis vetoed legislation giving Massachusetts school children the right to pledge allegiance to that flag at the beginning of the school day.

Let me tell you what I think about our Pledge of Allegiance, our flag, and our country. I want to tell you a story about when I was a prisoner of war. I spent 5 1/2 years at the Hanoi Hilton. In the early years of our imprisonment, the North Vietnamese kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell.

In 1971, the North Vietnamese moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room. This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change. And was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans, led by people like Nancy and Ronald Reagan, on behalf of a few hundred POW's, 10,000 miles form home.

One of the men who moved into my cell was Mike Christian. Mike Christian. Mike came from a small town from Selma, Alabama. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was thirteen years old. At seventeen, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He later earned a commission. He became a Naval flying officer, and was shot down and captured in 1967. Mike had a keen and deep appreciation for the opportunities this country — and our military — provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.

The uniforms that we wore in prison consisted of a blue short-sleeved shirt trousers that looked like pajama trousers and rubber sandals that were made out of automobile tires. I recommend them highly; one pair lasted my entire stay.

As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home. In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing. Mike got himself a piece of white cloth and a piece of red cloth and fashioned himself a bamboo needle. Over a period of a couple of months, he sewed the American flag on the inside of his shirt.

Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on the wall of our cell, and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I know that saying the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important or meaningful part of our day now. But I can assure you that — for those men in that stark prison cell — it was indeed the most important and meaningful event of our day.

One day, the Vietnamese searched our cell and discovered Mike's shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it. That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, called for Mike Christian to come out, closed the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours.

Then they opened the door of the cell and threw him back inside. He was not in good shape. We tried to comfort and take care of him as well as we could. The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. Four naked light bulbs hung in each corner of the room.

After things quieted down, I went to lie down to go to sleep. As I did, I happened to look in the corner of the room. Sitting there beneath that dim light bulb, with a piece of white cloth, a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend mike Christian. Sitting there, with his eyes almost shut from his beating , making another American flag. He was not making that flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important it was for us to be able to pledge our allegiance to our flag and our country.

Duty, Honor, Country. We must never forget those thousands of Americans who, with their courage, with their sacrifice, and with their lives, made those words live for all of us.

Ronald Reagan and George Bush remember. They have made America strong, free prosperous and have brought peace top our time. This November we must not forget. We must not retreat. Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Republicans. Duty, Honor, Country.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).