THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release June 13, 1995
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR LES ASPIN
St. John's Church, Lafayette Square
3:18 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I would like to begin by thanking all
the people who have spoken before. Each of them has given us a little
slice of the incredible, complex, rich person that Les was. I think he
would have liked this service. I think somewhere he's saying, gee, I
guess I did all right.
I always identified with Les Aspin. We were policy
wonks. We sometimes worried more about our work load than our
waistlines. And on occasion, we forgot that in this complicated world,
how things appear are sometimes almost as important as how things are.
But I will never forget that the essence of him was truly extraordinary.
And I am in great debt to the contribution he made to my life and to the
work of this administration.
One of my favorite pictures that has been in the press
since I've been in office is one of Les and I walking across the White
House lawn -- I had my arm around him, and we looked like we were deep
in thought. You know, what I was really telling him is, you have to
stop working so hard, lose some weight, loosen up. (Laughter.) If the
Presidency is preeminently a place of the power of persuasion, I failed
on that occasion. (Laughter.)
A friend once described Les' idea of a vacation as
thinking about defense in a different setting. (Laughter.) Once when
he did take a few days off, he sent a postcard home to his staff. On
the front, there was a picture of a beach; on the back he had scribbled,
"Why are you wasting time reading postcards?"
Those of us who had the privilege of being close to Les
Aspin know that he was not only exceptionally brilliant, he was
iconoclastic in the best sense. That was a great benefit now as we go
through this period of transition from the Cold War into a new and
exciting, but still troubling world.
He was always questioning the conventional wisdom and
always refusing to be bound by it. He was a good teacher. I learned a
lot from him. I remember the first time I came to see him I was the
governor of my home state and not a candidate for president; a curious
person. And when I left his office after our first talk, I was utterly
exhausted. I thought I had finally found somebody with four times the
energy I have.
Through the years, I sought him out more and more. And
in 1992, he, more than any other person, was responsible for the fact
that in our campaign we determined that both parties would be strong
Les Aspin did a lot of different things in a lot of
different ways. He showed sophistication, and then he showed the lack
of it. But, as had been said in different ways today, everyone
who really knew him never doubted one thing -- that his first and
foremost concern was to do whatever would make this country stronger
and safer and better. That is what he cared about above all else.
As the Cold War wound down, he played a critical role as
Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. But as my Secretary of
Defense, he was finally able to put his remarkable knowledge and passion
and vision for defense policy at work to reshape our forces to the
demands of the 21st century. The blueprint he took the lead in drafting
will guide us into that new world. It will guide us for decades to
come. And all of us will be in his debt.
After he left the Defense Department, we continued to talk,
and I continued to be amazed by his incredible openness to service; by
his incredible passion for the issues with which we were all called upon
to deal. And he answered the call to serve again as the head of our
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a post that is not much known
outside of Washington, but is of profound importance to the future of
this country. Then he agreed to serve on the Armed Services Commission
on Roles and Missions. He did all these things no matter what else was
going on in his life, no matter what had happened to him, with
incredible good humor and grace and passionate devotion.
It has been said that true patriotism is not short,
frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the steady dedication of a lifetime.
By that standard, Les Aspin was a true and remarkable patriot who made a
dramatic positive difference to the United States and all the people who
We will miss him terribly, but, as you heard today, his
legacy remains all around us in the streets of Beloit, Racine, Kenosha,
throughout southeast Wisconsin -- how he loves that place. It will be
seen in the students and the graduates of Marquette University; in the
men and women who wear our uniform around the world and do more good in
conditions that are more safe and secure because of his labor.
It also lives on, as we heard today so movingly, in the
memories of those of us who were lucky enough to have known and loved
him. He left each of us our own stock of Les Aspin stories, guaranteed
to bring a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts as long as we
remain on this Earth.
Well, Les is God's servant now. And, finally, finally, he
is with someone with sufficient energy to keep up. (Laughter.)
END 3:26 P.M. EDT
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