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Groundbreaking for the World War II Memorial
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The National Mall, Washington, DC, Saturday, November 11, 2000

President Clinton, Senator [Robert] Dole [Co-chairman, World War II Memorial Project], Fred Smith [Co-chairman, World War II Memorial Project; Chief Executive Officer, Federal Express], General [Fred] Woerner [Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission], distinguished guests, honored veterans, ladies and gentlemen.

We are gathering to break ground and to raise a memorial of granite and stone, but—as has been said this afternoon—more deeply to honor the lives of those who saved this nation, and this world, in its darkest hour. From Guadalcanal to Omaha Beach, the millions of Americans who changed the course of civilization itself will have their names etched in the book of history in a far more profound and permanent way than even the words to be inscribed on the arches that will rise around us.

The great warrior and jurist Justice Oliver Holmes, Jr. once looked into the eyes of his graying fellow veterans and spoke words that ring with vibrancy and relevance to us today, "The list of ghosts grows long. The roster of men grows short. Only one thing has not changed. As I look into your eyes I feel that a great trial in your youth has made you different. It made you citizens of the world."

We, the heirs of your sacrifice, are citizens of the world you made, and the nation you saved. And we can only stand in awe at your silent courage, at your sense of duty, and at the sacred gift that you have offered to all those who came after you. The honor of this day belongs to you.

A veteran of our great war for freedom at home, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who hailed from the great state of Maine, once said of his comrades, "In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass, bodies disappear, but spirits linger to consecrate ground for the visionplace of souls."

The men and women of America’s armed forces, those who inherited your spirit, who defend the consecrated ground on which you fought, today carry on your noble work, preserving what you have created, defending the victory you achieved, honoring the great deeds and ideals for which you struggled and sacrificed. All of us, all of us, are truly and deeply in your debt forever.

Now, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, standing on the bluff that overlooks Omaha Beach, President Clinton observed that it is a "hallowed place that speaks, more than anything else, in silence." So many years after the merciless sound of war had dissipated, the quiet and stillness of peace was hypnotically deep and profound.

Today, as we break ground on another silent sentry which will stand as a reminder of the long rattle of that now distant war, we are honored to have with us a commander-in-chief who has stood tall and strong for American leadership for peace and democracy, who refused to remain indifferent to the slaughter of innocent civilians, to the barbarity that we all thought that Europe would never see again, who refused to see evil reignited – the evil that you fought so hard to stamp out. He led our allies to defeat the final echo of the horrors from the 20th Century, preserving the victory you won so long ago.

For nearly four years now, it has been my honor to serve, and is now my great pleasure to introduce, the President of the United States, Bill Clinton.