Good afternoon..... To our gracious hosts—Merci….
Let me add my congratulations to the Naval Order of the United States for spearheading the effort to establish this magnificent tribute to the brave heroes of our naval forces.
It’s a great honor and special privilege to be a part of this most special occasion at this most hallowed place …
Throughout history, brave men in decisive battles have changed the course of civilization.
The same can be said of the men who fought here on D-Day sixty-four years ago … they, too, were a part of something profound and historic …
Victory or defeat at Normandy would determine the future … not just for France or Europe, but for all of humanity … for freedom … for liberty …
On that cold June morning … along the string of beaches below … the brave, young men of the Allied Expeditionary Force engaged in one of the most decisive military battles in history. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it “the most difficult and complicated operation ever to take place.”
And, none of it would have been possible without the support of Allied naval forces, which comprised the largest naval armada ever assembled.
Nearly 200,000 men were transported to the shores of France by Allied ships and other craft, including the Higgins boats, which were so crucial to success at Normandy …
All day, against heavy enemy resistance, Naval forces bravely carried a steady stream of men, supplies, and ammunition to the beaches … returning each time with the wounded.
The successful invasion of the heavily fortified beaches and cliffs was only possible with the massive fire support provided by the amphibious fleet assembled just off shore.
History will certainly record and the world will long remember the many contributions and sacrifices made by naval forces that day …
Major General Leonard Gerow summed it up well after going ashore to set up V Corps headquarters following the successful invasion. His first message to General Bradley, the Commander of all American ground forces on D-Day, was: "Thank God for the United States Navy!"
The Invasion was an unimaginable undertaking … And, what makes it even more incredible is the realization that many of the young men were 18 or 19 years old … they were new to the Service … and had never experienced even a moment of combat before that day at Normandy. Now … suddenly … they were a part of the most complex and consequential amphibious operation in history.
A young Lieutenant aboard USS Bayfield, the flagship for the Utah Beach landings, described the noise of D-Day as being like “the fireworks display of a thousand Fourth of Julys rolled into one.”1
The weather conditions were poor … Many of the young men were made horribly sick by the churning seas ... the water was littered with bodies of dead troops, some shot … others drowned by their gear... Men were crammed together in small transport craft headed toward the beaches … Yet, somehow, in the midst of this chaos and carnage each of them bravely did his duty. They were all heroes.
But, more importantly, all along the beaches—they were a team. They were Americans, Canadians, French, Brits, and other allies—Sailors and Soldiers—they came from different backgrounds and faiths, but on this day they were brothers.
Robert Farrington, a signalman-gunner aboard USS Catahoula Parish (LST-528) made landings at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches in June 1944. On the fiftieth anniversary, he returned to those beaches … and, he stopped by the nearby cemetery to pay his respects.
He was kneeling before one of the graves when another veteran came up and asked him if the deceased was a friend of his. Mr. Farrington got up … looked out over the graves … and replied … “They were all my friends.” 2
The brave men who fought and died here on D-Day … taught us all a profound lesson by their examples of courage and sacrifice … The lesson…is that freedom must be fought for and defended by every generation.
As President Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We don’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”
Today, we thank our comrades in arms—once again—for joining together on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan … to fight the evils that threaten this generation.
The solidarity that was the foundation for Allied success at Normandy is just as crucial today. Nations must stand resolutely together against adversaries that threaten freedom and liberty in our world.
Today, the actions of global leaders … and those who serve … like those at Normandy … will undoubtedly determine the course of civilization in this century.
We honor the profound sense of duty of those men who fought here on D-Day… we honor their service to country and to the Allied Expeditionary Force … and we honor their many sacrifices … as we dedicate this monument.
The American cemetery is located not far from here on the bluffs above Omaha Beach. If you haven’t had the opportunity—I would encourage all of you to take some time to visit it. There’s a beautiful chapel on the cemetery grounds. And, a wall in that chapel has an inscription that reads: “Think not upon their passing—remember the glory of their spirit.”
This afternoon, we remember … People living in freedom will always remember…. the sacrifices made on that June morning in 1944.
God bless our Veterans… God bless all those who serve the cause of freedom…. and especially all those standing the watch in Harm’s Way.
Vive la France!.... And, may God continue to bless America.