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World War II Memorial 10th Anniversary

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C., Saturday, May 24, 2014

General Kicklighter, Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Congressman Kaptur, those who accompany me this morning here in the row that I am seated in, all of our World War II veterans and their families, veterans from every service, all our wars, families, friends, it is a privilege – it is a rare privilege to have an opportunity to share this morning and this event, this commemoration with all of you.

I think as much as any one thing that I am proud of in my life is the fact, as General Kicklighter noted, I am the son of a World War II veteran.  And anyone who grew up in a household with a World War II veteran knows the values, the standards, the expectations that was imbued in each of us, not recognizing at the time as a young person what those men and women, those special men and women who served this country and the world in World War II, were doing for all of us.

As we age, hopefully become wiser, we recognize more and more every day the depth and the width of what our World War II veterans did, not just during the conflict, but when they came home and rebuild not only our country, but defined a world order, a world order that's essentially kept peace since World War II, no World War III, no nuclear exchange.  We've had problems.  We've had challenges.  We do today.  But the magnificent residue of what our World War II veterans built, left behind that we have the privilege and capacity to work on today and continue to strengthen and enhance is really unparalleled in history.

As has been noted here this morning, I want to particularly recognize my friend who I have known many, many years, no one I admire more than Bob Dole for what he has done and what he continues to do.  Incidentally, I've never told Bob Dole this, but my father and Bob Dole's birthdays are exactly the same day, the same year, July 22, 1923.  So happy early birthday, Bob.

My dear friend and former colleague in the Senate, Elizabeth Dole, Elizabeth, thank you for what you continue to do.  And I know, as everyone here, Marcy Kaptur's leadership, what she meant to push this effort through in the House, as she authored that legislation.  As has been noted here, too, Fred Smith and his corporate leadership, Fred, thank you.  And all here who made this happen, we are grateful and we thank you. 

I want to also note two distinguished World War II veterans who also worked hand in hand with Bob Dole and Fred Smith and Marcy Kaptur to make this happen, Danny Inouye and Ted Stevens.  Without all of them, this would not have happened, this memorial would not have been built.  And America's in your debt.  Thank you.

Few are better able to capture the essence of World War II than the legendary journalist, Ernie Pyle.  In describing the aftermath of an American-led assault in North Africa, Pyle told the story of a British officer who walked through the battlefield.  He wrote that “American boys were still lying dead in their foxholes, their rifles still grasped in firing position in their dead hands.  And the veteran English soldier remarked time and again, in a sort of hushed eulogy spoken only to himself, ‘Brave men.  Brave men.  Brave men.’”

This morning, we honor the generation of brave men and women who helped liberate the world from the grip of tyranny and who built America, who built America into what it is today.  As we approach Memorial Day, we recall the staggering toll of the war, the more than 400,000 U.S. troops who lost their lives, the more than 670,000 who were wounded, and the more than 73,000 American servicemembers who remain unaccounted for. 

We pray that future generations never again, never again have to witness such a destructive global conflict.  But that's why this memorial is so important.  Like all memorials, it was built to honor the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, but also to instruct future generations that war is not an abstraction.  War is real with real consequences. 

This memorial was built to remind us that the peace, prosperity and freedom we all enjoy today was delivered by those who fought in the deserts of North Africa, on the beaches of Normandy, on the high seas and in the air, and everywhere in the Pacific.  And it has been preserved, been preserved by the men and women who stepped forward to wear the uniform of this nation in the decades that followed. 

In a few days, I'll have the privilege of joining President Obama and other world leaders at Normandy.  We will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  Some of you here today were there 70 years ago.

As we prepare for that historic commemoration and as we join here at this memorial today, we know that every opportunity to thank our veterans of World War II is a precious one.  This nation may never again be shaped and led by an entire generation that fought and bled so completely for their country. 

But the legacy of our fathers, our grandfathers, and great-grandfathers will forever endure.  This legacy remains alive today in the millions of men and women who have stepped forward to serve our nation over the past 13 years of war.  They, too, are a great generation, and their humility, patriotism, and selflessness continues to inspire us all.

Like so many of the young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines whose stories he chronicled, Ernie Pyle's life was cut short when he was hit by gunfire during the final months of the Pacific campaign.  Reacting to his death, the Army chief of staff, General George Marshall, said that Pyle “did not glorify war, but he did glorify the nobility, the simplicity, and the heroism of the American fighting man.”

Today and every day, let us aspire to do the same.  We must never forget that war is brutal and uncontrollable, full of dangerous unintended consequences.  But even though this is so, American's men and women have always found higher purpose in service to their country.  And as they have always done their duty, we must do ours.  We must always ensure that we remain worthy of these great sacrifices.  That will remain this nation's task for generations to come.

On behalf of all the men and women in uniform today all around the world, I thank our veterans here today, their families for their sacrifices, their service.  You inspire us.  You make us better.  And we are grateful.  God bless you all.  Thank you. 

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