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A Salute to, the 80th Congress
of The United States

by William G. Stratton

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor to be with you tonight and to represent the members of the 80th Congress. I hold the distinction of being the baby of that group, and therefore, unlike many of my better known colleagues, I have been able to see the wonderful effects of the decisions that we made so many years ago. It is hard for me to believe that fifty years have passed since those exciting days of my youth.

Although we have seen man walk on the moon and wonders that we could not dream of in 1947 when we were sworn in, I will always remember my participation in the European crisis of 1947 as one of the most exciting times in my life. It is hard for me to explain to you today just how close the world came to seeing freedom and democracy snuffed out forever.

William G. Stratton

About the same time that we were sworn in as the 80th Congress, General George C. Marshall was sworn in as Secretary of State. He had the thankless, and seemingly impossible job of figuring out what to do about Europe.

Great Britain and France, once great colonial and world powers, were falling apart and nearly bankrupt. Italy and Germany were almost completely destroyed. The former free states of the Baltics, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the Balkans were under Soviet Communist totalitarian control. In addition, the winter of '46-'47 had been unusually hard, with people freezing to death, and there was a general drought and crop failure in the summer of 1947. America had already poured over $9 billion of humanitarian aid into Europe with no visible improvement.

1947 became our finest hour. In his short speech, George C. Marshall laid out the vision for America's foreign policy for the next fifty years. Let me quote him here, "Our purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."

Not only through the billions in grants and loans involved but through a restoration of our confidence in our very economic system.

In a sense today any country that possesses the atomic capability is a potential super power. Ages old rivalries are compounded by the dynamics of the Atomic Age.

Perhaps as never before, it is imperative the dangers be recognized and steps taken to alleviate the pressure. Let us take heart in the ability and willingness of the young men and women of today to meet the challenge of the new age. May there be in the offing some new application of the Marshall Plan principle. We are constantly reminded of the ongoing stream of history.

Editor's Note: The above remarks were presented by the author on June 17, 1998, following dinner at The Willard Inter-Continental Hotel in Washington, D.C. The banquet commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Congressional legislation that enacted funding of the Marshall Plan. Governor Stratton's reminiscence demonstrates the important role that Illinois natives have played upon the national stage.

In these times, we cannot fail to meet the challenge as we strive for peace. May we always continue to accept the responsibility of leadership on a world scale.

Today, half a century later, we have been blessed to see the Iron Curtain come down and to see democracy breaking out all over the world. My generation has done its duty by God and country to pass freedom on to our children. Therefore, I now pass on to my newest friend and colleague, Mr. Harold Ford, Jr., the youngest member of the current Congress, and to his generation of leaders, the responsibility of ensuring that future generations will live in a free world.

It is a joy to join so may of you who play such an outstanding role in a crucial period of our history.

William G. Stratton
Courtesy of Shirley B. Stratton.

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