August 9, 2004
When your heart is as full as mine is this evening, words don't come easily. So I'll trust you'll forgive me if I keep my remarks short, to the point and from the heart. It is tempting, on an anniversary like this, to tell old war stories--some of them true-- to relive the past, and reminisce about the history that we made together. But at my stage in life one is inclined to think less about dates on a calendar than those things that are timeless--about leadership and service and patriotism and sacrifice, about doing one's best in meeting every challenge that life presents.
Those are just some of the qualities that all of you displayed in a time of uncertainty and national testing. History will judge our success. But no one can doubt our dedication. We set out to bind America's wounds, and to heal America's heart. By the time we celebrated our bicentennial in 1976 we celebrated more than a distance event--we were able to take heart ourselves from the renewal of the great truths expressed by our Founders.
Did we make mistakes? Of course. Did we fall short of all that we hoped to achieve? Undoubtedly. We're only human. That, too, is part of the perspective that comes with time, and that balances the pursuit of power with the humility of faith. In this life I have been blessed in many ways. For a quarter century the people of Western Michigan trusted me to be their voice on Capitol Hill. My Republican colleagues in the House made me their leader. My Democratic colleagues made me their trusted friend.
Without seeking them, I was called upon to fill this nation's highest offices. For two and a half years, I had the greatest privilege that can come to any American--to lead my countrymen through trying times, and uphold the sacred honor of free men and women everywhere.
The greatest blessings of my life, however, extend far behind any political office, however exalted. They begin with parents who taught me that character and courage are inseparable. They continue with countless friends who embody both those vital qualities. That includes everyone in this room this evening, and so many more who live on in our memories. Best of all, I have been blessed with a family whose support has never wavered...with children and grandchildren, and yes--great grandchildren of whom I am extraordinarily proud.
The greatest of all of my blessings has been to share a journey of almost 56 years with a women whose love, loyalty, and laughter have never diminished. I thank God every day for Betty and the kids and so many, many gifts that He has showered upon me. So tonight I ask you join me in saluting the past, savoring the present, and anticipating the future. For in America, the best has never been...it is always yet to be. May God bless America.
Thank you for being with us tonight--I am so grateful.