2:51 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Today it’s my distinct privilege to welcome to the White House three of the five living survivors of the USS Arizona. This is their first time to our nation’s capital — Ken, Lauren, and Don. I hope this trip does honor to you and your truly heroic service and we wanted to thank you all. That is so good. Thank you very much. Thank you for giving me the nicest hardware, plus a beautiful patch. Thank you.
For these three World War II veterans, December 7th, 1941, the brutal attack on Pearl Harbor is forever seared into their memories. It’s also seared into America’s memory because, on that grim day, this mighty nation was roused to defend freedom itself.
Each of them has a harrowing story of courage to share. They tell us of the American spirit under fire, and of the will of our people to defeat threats to our nation and to the civilized world.
One of the heroes with us today is Ken Potts. Ken was on the shore at Pearl Harbor when the attack began. Rather than flee from the fire and the chaos, he drove his small boat into the blazing hot water. He climbed aboard the sinking Arizona, and he carried off passengers one by one.
Ken, it is an honor to meet you, an American hero whose love of our country and love of his brothers was greater than his concern for his own safety. And he paid a very big price. He’s gone through life in a little bit worse condition than he could have but he was very, very happy that he did it.
We’re deeply grateful that you are here today with us nearly 76 years after that December morning. You are a living witness to history and a living example of true American courage. Ken, how are you doing? Are you all right?
MR. POTTS: All right.
THE PRESIDENT: You doing good?
MR. POTTS: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re feeling good?
MR. POTTS: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: You better believe it. (Laughter.) He looks good to me. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Lauren Bruner and Donald Stratton are also with us. They were on the deck of the USS Arizona, doing their duty, when the ship was engulfed by massive, massive flames. They were both fortunate enough to be rescued by another courageous hero, Joe George, whose daughter, Joe Ann, is with us today.
Joe was in a boat next to the USS Arizona, and when he saw several men still standing, he hurled a rope onto the deck of the ship at tremendous risk to himself. Lauren and Don clung to that rope and, hand over hand, they crossed through the 70 feet of flames, burning endlessly.
The story of Lauren and Don’s devotion and duty doesn’t end there. Despite suffering terrible burns, still with them today, they both served in the Navy for years after, fighting in some of the greatest Pacific engagements in World War II. Lauren and Don, thank you very much for your lifetime of service and your lifetime of sacrifice. Thank you very much. Thank you.
MR. STRATTON: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Feel pretty good, right? How long have you been married? Have long are you together? Listen to this one, folks.
MR. STRATTON: Sixty-seven years. My wife.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s a long time. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. Thank you.
MR. STRATTON: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: That is beautiful.
As Lauren and Don will tell you, they’re here because one man, Joe George, stopped at nothing to save them. Joe George rescued six men that day. He is no longer with us, but he will always honor and remember a man — we will always do this — whose courage knew no limits. His name will go down in history — very brave, very strong.
Joe Ann, your father makes us all proud. Thank you for inspiring our nation by telling the story of your father — a true patriot; a well-known man; a man that goes down, really, in the history with the Arizona; and a total hero. Thank you very much.
MS. TAYLOR: We’re very proud of him.
THE PRESIDENT: You should be, right? That’s so nice. Thank you for being here. I think you loved him, right?
MS. TAYLOR: I loved him very much. And I know you understand because you have your daughters.
THE PRESIDENT: I do.
MS. TAYLOR: You understand the relationship.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s true. Thank you, Joe Ann. Appreciate it.
There are many remarkable things that I witness as President, but nothing can take the place of meeting heroes like those with us today. In them we see the strength of our nation, the courage of our men and women in uniform, the resolve to never accept failure, and the belief that justice will always triumph and that the America — and the America that we know and love — the United States — will always prevail. We will always prevail.
And by the way, we’re building it up bigger — you know this. We’re building it up bigger and stronger and better than ever before. Our military is very proud again, aren’t they?
LIEUTENANT PREVITS: That’s right.
THE PRESIDENT: You see what’s happening.
LIEUTENANT PREVITS: Indeed.
THE PRESIDENT: They look at the day’s budget, and so they’re seeing lots of ships, right? Lots of planes. Lots of great equipment.
LIEUTENANT PREVITS: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Ken, Lauren, Don, and Joe Ann, I want to thank you for reminding us who we are, where we come from, and why we never, ever give up. Your story gives us all inspiration to do the right thing for our country, our countrymen, and for our God. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much. It’s a great honor. Thank you. Thank you all.
Q Mr. President, what are you trying to accomplish with your staff shakeups today? Can you explain to us what you’re trying to accomplish?
THE PRESIDENT: Make America great again.
You want to hear this, fellas? It’s very interesting. Very interesting. Very beautiful statement. Very beautiful statement.
MR. STRATTON: All the people we met today and all the people who were lined along — that we’ve been with, you could tell, with our military and everything, that this country is coming together again, and we’re going to be there.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s good. And now I know why you married this guy such a long time. (Laughter.) That’s beautiful. Thank you.
I could never have said it that well, believe me. (Laughter.) Believe me. Thank you. That’s so nice.
2:59 P.M. EDT