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National D-Day Museum Opening, Screening of "The Shooting War"
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Eisenhower Center Symposium, New Orleans, Louisiana, Monday, June 05, 2000

Thank you very much. Doug [Brinkley; Director, Eisenhower Center] thank you very much for your generous words. Steve Ambrose, Tom Brokaw, we'll see later this evening, if not this afternoon. [Historian] Ron Drez and so many others, Tom Hanks, and Steven [Spielberg]. I can't tell you what it is like for me to be up here this afternoon.

My wife Janet and I had a chance to address the Indy 500 last Sunday, and that was a very memorable experience. The fans were very patriotic. We had three Medal of Honor recipients up on the stage with us and nearly, 400,000 or 500,000 people stood on their feet to applaud them.

That's basically why we wanted to come down here this afternoon and tomorrow, to say that we are truly indebted to all of you. Because of what you gave and what we received, because of your courage, because of what you sacrificed, all of us, we are the heirs of freedom. We sleep comfortable under the blanket of freedom each and every night, and that we owe to you and that's one of the reasons I am here. [Applause.]

We'll look back on their service in a few moments, and I'm a little bit intimidated being up here on this program with these distinguished speakers. If you think about Steve Ambrose, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and others, I feel like the proverbial Missouri mule who was entered in the Kentucky Derby. [Laughter.] No one expected him to win, but they all knew he'd benefit from the association. [Laughter.]

But I benefit from the association from being with you. I am in the company of heroes. I have a light cast on me because of what you've done and what you've given. You carried us through the Depression, you won the war, you saved much of the world for freedom. For that we are always going to be grateful. [Applause.]

I'd like to say a word on behalf of your families as well. This past week we hosted the first Family Forum and we're trying to institutionalize the Family Forum at the Pentagon. What we want to do is touch the lives of the families as well, because you sacrificed along with your spouses. You paid as much of a sacrifice as any in this world for what you gave up. [Applause.] We want to find a way to continue to institutionalize this program so that we can pay tribute to you and your families each and every year.

But let me conclude with the words of a great historian, the man who really has been responsible for bringing us here this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow, Steven Ambrose. In his book, which many of you I'm sure have read, Citizen Soldier, he asks the proverbial question. He says, how was it that such a group of Americans from all racial, ethnic, religious, socio-economic backgrounds could be hurled into the middle of this war, both in the Pacific and over in Europe, against such mechanized evils as they had to confront, with such overwhelming odds, how was it they were able to prevail?

And he said something that has always stayed with me. He said the answer was because at the core of the citizen soldier lies this understanding -- they knew the difference between right and wrong, and they were unwilling to live in a world in which wrong triumphed. So they fought and they prevailed, and we are eternally grateful for what they have achieved.

So ladies and gentlemen, once again, thank you for what you have given. Thank you for what we now enjoy. Thank you very much. We are truly indebted. [Applause.]