Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks by Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
November 8, 2019
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you for the kind remarks. Your emphasis on young officer – (laughter) – came home to me when I had the chance to walk around the town of Modlareuth and the places that I served from 1986 to ’89. I was young. (Laughter.)
I want to thank, first of all, everybody here. I have prepared remarks – because this has frankly been two days that have been very special to me personally because of the chance that I had to serve as just part – a tiny part of the effort that led to the freedom for so many people all throughout Europe. And to come back, we were with some of the Bundesgrenzschutz, the police that patrolled alongside the borders with us. And to see these guys – they had gotten really old. I hadn’t aged (inaudible). (Laughter). It was really special.
But I have prepared remarks and I’m going to hew to them because it’s so special, I don’t want to miss anything that I’ve been thinking about in the lead-up to this.
First of all, I want to thank all the people who made these two days possible, especially what we’re going to do here today. What an excellent job supporting my visit, and the work of getting this monumental moment to take place I know rested on your backs. And thank you all for that.
Fred, I want to thank you, too, and the Presidential Foundation for preserving the memory and legacy of one of America’s greatest presidents. I know you work on this not just on special days like this, but every day in between too, and thank you so much for you and your team’s continued work. (Applause.)
Thirty years, and we stand on a piece of real estate that was part of the kill zone, a place along the border – it was a no man’s land. I’d seen that from the other side, and I had two instances where I saw people try to make a break across that very space – not here, but in another part. I think we’re also well acquainted with the famous – most famous, perhaps – President Reagan’s famous words where he said: “tear down this wall.” I want to just make sure we reflect on why he said it, because I think it’s very telling for what our duty is as we move forward.
Look at something else he once said. He said, quote, “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few. It is the universal right of all of God’s children.” Everyone, everywhere is entitled to that freedom.
It’s a bold claim, and it’s an idea that our nation was founded on, and one that we work at tirelessly. The Declaration of Independence started it all when it said that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” That commitment extends to everything that Ambassador Grenell and the State Department tries to do each day all across the world. No other nation – and you all have interacted with many; I now do it as a living – no other nations holds high the cause of human dignity in the same way that the United States does. Our founders’ commitment to this is what drives it. It created the space for it. It’s been transmitted throughout the years; it’s in our very DNA as Americans.
President Reagan was an indispensable leader of the signal American mission to defend unalienable rights. I remember I entered the United States Military Academy in the summer of 1982. I remember where our security posture was, and by the time I came out, my M1 tank had all the fuel it needed. (Laughter.)
Because of his courageous leadership and his commitment to that freedom, he courageously denounced the greatest threat to them of this day to that freedom – the Soviet Empire, the evil empire. He knew that instead of protecting a citizen’s right, they brutalized citizens or executed them. He oversaw – and he knew that those leaders oversaw communist lackeys in countries like East Germany that did the very same thing to their people.
When I was stationed here, I heard his beautiful compelling words. They had a special resonance for me as I sat in those barracks at Camp Gates. Yeah, they were really nice. (Laughter.) Because I could look across the border each time we’d go out on patrol, and I could see the grim reality, the grey reality of life on the other side. We didn’t get to talk to them, we didn’t get to know them, but we could see the conditions in which their leaders put their people.
I’m sure they helped spur many brave East Germans to defy their overlords as well, those words that President Reagan did, not just those of us who were on our side. Indeed, it was Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He told President Bush in a phone call as the wall started to come down, he said, quote, without U.S. – “Without the United States, this day would not have been possible.” I certainly think that the language, the rhetoric President Reagan used was an important part of that.
So I hope each day – I hope each day when you see this beautiful statue that we’re about to unveil, you won’t just think of a great American president. I hope you’ll do more than that. I hope you’ll think of the commitment that we all must have to those unalienable rights and to freedom. You’ll think of each of your own personal commitment to that, and how you can help effectuate it, and you’ll commit to the American mission, helping others all around the world enjoy them just as God intended.
So thank you. God bless you all for being here with us. (Applause.)