By John M. McHughJune 13, 2012
Mayor Lefevre, merci.
All the honored Veterans who are here today -- a special recognition to the Army Golden Knights for the courage that they brought and the success they had returning our distinguished Ambassador safely to the Earth. [Laughter]
People of Sainte Mère o/ooglise -- thank you so much for hosting once again, this truly important and moving event.
I'm told there's a French proverb -- and in English it reads loosely "it is good to have friends everywhere." I will tell you [that] during our brief visit here, we have made many new friends and I want to thank you for making us feel so welcome.
This morning, I had the honor and opportunity of visiting the American cemetery and, thinking about today's ceremony I was deeply struck by the inscription on the colonnade. It reads: "This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed by the ideals, the valor and sacrifices of our fellow countrymen."
That day, 68-years ago, as American blood mixed with French soil, it cemented even further the strong, historic bond between our two nations…indeed, the bond amongst all of the allied nations of that day. And, most of all, it ensured the triumph of liberty and freedom over pure evil.
But looking, as I did, at the expanse of that cemetery, and thinking of the tragic loss of life that our collective nations suffered, I was reminded, too, of the lessons taught by the words of General Charles DeGaulle on war's futility…as well as its triumphs.
"The wreckage of war is beyond counting," he wrote. "But, in brooding on the evil, do we not tend to forget the children born into safety, the lives lived out in security as the result of the toil and sacrifice of our soldiers?"
I'm here today as Secretary of the Army of the United States. But I'm here, as well, as one of those children. Indeed, the first generation of children who were able to live out our lives in safety and in freedom thanks to those who fought and who sacrificed on these lands and on this shore.
Sixty-eight years ago this Wednesday, in the dark of night … in weather that was not quite as good as this, the liberation of Europe began, as intrepid Allied pilots braved horrific anti-aircraft artillery to reach deep behind the lines of the coastal defenses.
With them were 24,000 American, British, Canadian, and Free French paratroopers -- assigned the critical tasks of disrupting the German's ability to organize and launch counter-attacks by seizing key bridges, road crossings, and terrain, neutralizing the enemy's coastal defense batteries.
It's a famous military axiom that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy -- and so it was on that day -- on D-Day.
Facing fierce resistance and attempting a complicated airborne drop at night, few units landed intact and most far from their intended targets.
Dispersed, disoriented, lightly armed, and deep behind enemy lines -- the odds of success must have seemed slim … but the price of failure was unthinkable.
But the great story of D-Day -- the landings on the beach and the airborne drop -- wasn't the impressive armada in the English Channel, wasn't all the months and months of planning, was not the detail of operation Overlord. It was simply the bravery, the resilience, and the innovation of the Allied Soldiers who embodied the spirit and determination English Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill described when he laid out Allied aims for the war.
He said: victory was our only option. "Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival."
And so they marched … they struggled … they fought … and they liberated towns and villages -- beginning right here in Sainte Mère o/ooglise.
So, today is truly a great day. For today we celebrate the 68th anniversary of one of the seminal events of our combined nations' history -- a victory over tyranny -- a victory that began right here, with the liberation of this great town by the 82nd Airborne Division.
It is a time to rejoice. We celebrate an enduring partnership between our two nations based on liberté, égalite� and fraternité.
But it is also a bittersweet occasion, recognizing as we must the time we have left with these great heroes, the brave Veterans of this historic battle, indeed World War II writ large. They are aging. And where, at the end of the war, more than 16 million living American Veterans of what General Dwight David Eisenhower called this "Great Crusade" walked among us, today there are fewer.
And at some point -- some point we hope in the very distant future -- the last witness to this war's terrors and triumphs will be lost -- and as such we may lose an important part of our history as well.
That tide is as painful as it is inevitable. But what we must never lose -- what we must never forget -- are the lessons that these great heroes wrote.
And that's why days like this matter -- why events and commemorations like this must be held … and why the multitude of monuments that dot the beautiful Norman coast are so vitally important. They convey lessons of the past to future generations.
And, as such, Monsieur le Maire, the good people of Sainte Mère o/ooglise, indeed all the people of the proud nation of France -- thank you for your continued devotion and support to these commemorations.
And thank you, most of all, to our Veterans -- of this war and to all past conflicts -- so called, ordinary men and women who were inspired to extraordinary service for all of us and for others.
When he contemplated the great cost of the war, DeGaulle said, "It is not tolerable, it is not possible, that from so much death, so much sacrifice and ruin, so much heroism, a greater and better humanity shall not emerge."
That is our challenge today -- to live up to the sacrifice of those who gave their lives on these very lands and on these shores, who gave us the chance to live free from the dark cloud under which this land once fell. Let us all do our part to create a better humanity in their memory and all that they achieved.
May God Bless all of you and may God Bless all our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines still fighting for freedom around the world each and every day for all of us.