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President Bush Issues Columbus Day Proclamation

Aired October 8, 2001 - 15:07   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: At the White House, the president is about to begin this Columbus Day proclamation ceremony. He's with the first lady. These are fire chiefs, rather, from around the country behind him. You can listen to the president now as he is being warmly greeted at the White House.




Thank you very much.


Glad I invited you.


Thank you all for coming. Laura and I are delighted to have you here to celebrate Columbus Day. Since 1934, when Franklin Roosevelt first proclaimed the national holiday, our entire nation has observed Columbus Day to mark that moment when the Old World met the New.

We honor the man from Genoa and the vision that carried him throughout his 10-week voyage, and we recognize as well -- we recognize the unique contributions that people of Italian descent have made here in our country for more than five centuries.

Italian-Americans were among the many public servants last month who gave extraordinary service in an hour of dire emergency. Some are with us today.

The Fire Department of Arlington, Virginia, was the first on the scene after the attack on the Pentagon. And we're so honored to have Battalion Chief Jim Bonanza (ph) with us today.


We have representatives of the New York police and fire departments with us, representatives of people who showed incredible bravery and sacrifice and determination. Please welcome Joe Esposito (ph) and Chief Dan Nygro (ph). (APPLAUSE)

Chief Nygro (ph) is the successor of Peter Ganse Jr. (ph), whom I had the privilege of meeting two years ago.

Chief Ganse (ph) gave his life at the World Trade Center. He was laid to rest on September the 15th.

We're so delighted today to have heroes here representing the Ganse (ph) family -- his wife, his two sons and his daughters. Welcome and thank you for being here.


I can't remember; is it Chris or is it Peter the III who looked out at the South Lawn and said, "God, I wish Dad were here. He could hit a three wood right over the fence."


I said, "It might make him nervous. He might shank it into the water."


He said, "No, you don't know my dad."


I want to thank the Sons of Italy who have joined us today, as well as the leadership of the National Italian American Foundation and UNICO National who are here as well. Thank you all for coming.


Ambassador Salleo, from Italy, we're so glad you're here. And thank you for brining your wife with you, as well.

I just got off the phone call with your prime minister, Prime Minister Berlusconi, who is a good friend of mine and a good friend of America. He sends his best, by the way.



I want to thank the members of Congress who are here. Thank you all for coming.

And I'm also -- I'm so pleased that the first Italian-American to serve on our Supreme Court has agreed to join us, as well.

BUSH: Justice Scalia, thank you for being with me.

(APPLAUSE) I'm proud to have a number of Italian-Americans in my administration. A member of my Cabinet unfortunately is not here, but I can assure you he's doing a great job, and that's Tony Principi. I'm so proud of Tony's service to the veterans of our country. He's doing a really outstanding job.

I've got to -- as you know, that sometimes we have to do battle on Capitol Hill. I try to avoid those battles, but occasionally it has to happen. And, therefore, I picked an Italian-American to lead that battle for the White House, Nick Calio.


Where are you, Nick?


I know Congresswoman Pelosi is saying, all you've got to do is do it the way she tells you to, and things will be fine.


I'm also honored that John Carlo Perischutti (ph) of my staff has put this event together. I want to thank John Carlo as well for his help.


The White House has been -- has welcomed many entertainers before. And today, we have the honor of welcoming a lady who you all know well, whose mom had entertained at the White House years ago. She entertained the Kennedys. And today, after I sign the proclamation, Lisa Minelli has agreed to entertain us in this beautiful room in this beautiful house of the people.

I was in New York last week like all Americans and I have been amazed -- like all Americans, I am amazed at what a great job the New York City folks are doing. The spirit of New York, the willingness for people to pull together and to help a neighbor in need. And I'm most impressed by the character of the leadership there; two people of Italian heritage, I might add: the governor...


... and Mayor Rudy Giuliani.


The evil ones thought they were going to hurt us, and they did to a certain extent. But what they really did was enabled the world to see the true character and compassion and spirit of our country, and no finer example of that than New York City.

This Columbus Day should be one of deep pride for all Americans, all Americans, specially those for Italian descent. From the very beginning of our country the sons and daughters of Italy have brought honor to themselves and have enriched our national lives. In the beauty of this capital city, we see the hand of Italian immigrants, who spent more than 10 years carving the great seated figure in the Lincoln Memorial, who adorned the National Cathedral with statutes, and who graced the dome and corridors of the Capitol building with magnificent art.

Our freedom itself was gained with the help of three Italian regiments that crossed the Atlantic to fight in the Revolutionary War. Our Declaration so Independence bears the signature of two Italian- Americans, In later struggle, dozens of Italian-Americans would receive the Medal of Honor. And today when Americans pay tribute to the greatest generation, we have in mind people like Captain Don Genteel (ph), the fighting ace, who General Eisenhower described as a one-man Air Force.

Take any field of endeavor, any achievement of this country, and Italian-Americans are part of it.

For generation after generation, the success of our country has drawn heavily from the industry and resourcefulness of Italian immigrants and their families.

The same can be said for the values that make us a great nation. The millions who came here brought with them a distinct strength of character, faith in God, devotion to family and love of life.

This summer, I visited Genoa, where 550 years ago Christopher Columbus was born. All around that vibrant and modern city are glimpses of the ancient civilization that still inspires the world's admiration and always will.

In so many ways, that culture has added to our own. First on three small ships, then on many more. It is our good fortune to be an immigrant nation, to be the keepers of traditions and gifts that have come to us from great nations like Italy. More than 15 million Americans claim Italian heritage, and all Americans have reason to be grateful because we'd be poorer without it.

I now have the singular honor of signing the official document proclaiming October 8, 2001, as Columbus Day in the United States of America.


Thank you all very much.

BROWN: The president handing out some pens that he used, sitting next to the first lady as we wait for Liza Minelli to sing. Again, a group of fire chiefs and fire officials with him.

It strikes us how the most ordinary and routine events in government -- and this certainly was one of them -- take on an entirely differently hue on a day like this, 24, 36 hours after the nation has launched an attack, a month since the nation itself was attacked in New York and in Washington. Nothing seems routine at all: not even a Columbus Day proclamation that would have, I dare say, in a different moment gone unreported or unnoted as just the routine events of the day.

Liza Minelli coming in, a military escort, to sing on this Columbus Day, or at least the day we celebrate as Columbus Day.

LIZA MINELLI, ENTERTAINER (singer): Say, yes, life keeps happening every day. Say yes, when opportunity comes your way, you can't stop wondering what to say. You'll never win if you never play. Say yes. There's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right outside, more white Cadillacs you can ride. Nothing's gained if there's nothing tried. Say yes. Don't say why. Say why not. What lies beyond what is, is not. So what? Say yes.

Yes, I can. Yes, I will. Yes, I'll take a sip, yes, I'll touch. Yes, of course. Yes, how nice. Yes, I'd happily, thank you very much. Yes. Oh, yes.

Yes, there's lots of chaff, there's lots of wheat. Yes.

You might get mugged as you walk the streets. On the other hand, you might greet that handsome stranger you've longed to meet. Say yes.

Yes, I'll look. Yes, I'll walk. Yes, I'd love to do such and such. Yes, I'll try. Yes, I'll dare. Yes, I'll fly. Yes, I'll sail. And yes, I am, and yes, I'll be. And yes, I'll go. Oh, yes. Yes.


BROWN: Liza Minelli entertaining the president and the -- those assembled at the White House on this Columbus Day. Ms. Minelli's mother, Judy Garland, entertained at the White House during the Kennedy administration.




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