We recall D-Day 1944, or the invasion of Europe that put thousands of US and allied young men on the beaches of Normandy. They liberated Paris a few months later and Hitler was eventually defeated the next spring.
in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years,
much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had
fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation.
Europe was enslaved and the world prayed for its rescue. Here, in
Normandy, the rescue began. Here, the Allies stood and fought against
tyranny, in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was
dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the
crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of
the 6th of June, 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off
the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.
invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the
enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these
guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the
cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades.
And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the
face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger
fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger
would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back,
and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves
over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs,
they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and
twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could
still bear arms.
were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who
put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men
who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a
continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I
look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are
men who in your “lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed
with your honor.”
were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well
everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st
Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near
a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound
of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t.
They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the
reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground
announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry, I’m a few minutes late,” as
if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come
from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just
between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold; and
the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the
horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but
they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never
spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore; The Royal Winnipeg
Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots’ Fusiliers, the Screaming
Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free
France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet,” and you, the American
were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more
than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked
everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside
the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these
cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look
at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was
loyalty and love.
faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would
grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep
knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a
profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and
the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to
conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you
were right not to doubt.
worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most
deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you
loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew
the people of your countries were behind you.
was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in
their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they
were filling the churches at 4:00 am. In Kansas they were kneeling on
their porches and praying. And in Philadelphia they were ringing the
Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here;
that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the
invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel
with him in prayer, he told them: “Do not bow your heads, but look up so
you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do.” Also,
that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the
darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor
to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above
all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting
tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty,
and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together.
There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies,
all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part,
creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former
enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance — a great
alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for
prosperity, and for peace.
the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were
lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the
streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. The Soviet troops that came
to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They’re
still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost forty years after
the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent.
Today, as forty years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose: to
protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials
like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.
better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter
across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve
learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable
response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent. But we
try always to be prepared for peace, prepared to deter aggression,
prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms, and yes, prepared to reach
out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no
reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the
Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and
Russian people during World War II. Twenty million perished, a terrible
price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I
tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We
want to wipe from the face of the earth the terrible weapons that man
now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that
beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are
willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace,
and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a
changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.
now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment
to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.
traditions, and beliefs. We’re bound by reality. The strength of
America’s allies is vital to the United States, and the American
security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe’s
democracies. We were with you then; we’re with you now. Your hopes are
our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.
to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what
they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew
Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”
and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for
which they lived and died.
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