General, Chaplain, Secretary Nicholson, General Vessey, it’s always good to see you and your wonderful family down here in the front row. Ambassadors from so many countries, we thank you for being here, it means a great deal to us. World War II veterans, and your families, we appreciate your service -- we’re pleased you’re here and we wish you all well.
And what an evening this is.
Tonight, of course, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost so much in Hurricane Katrina. Military and civilian and families…they include many veterans. Some of those veterans have relocated here to the Washington area and been welcomed here in D.C. Certainly our country will do all we can to bring all we have to bear to help our fellow Americans in distress. May God be with them.
We gather to commemorate the end of World War II. And for a moment let us pause and consider its beginnings.
America had only the 17th largest military in the world. Newspapers had headlines quoting well-known figures and expressing their doubts the importance of that struggle, and indeed some prominent people even foresaw democracy’s doom. Still others questioned the grit and the courage of America’s youth.
Yet into their hands, we placed democracy’s fate. With faith, they entered a fierce and blinding storm. And from their blood and sacrifice, the world was made anew.
As I considered this evening, I asked how one might characterize a war recalled so well by those who fought in it -- who lived those gripping moments when determination meant danger, and valor met violence.
Words seem small in comparison to those times.
I was reminded that some years after the war, General Eisenhower was scheduled to speak at Penn State University, where his brother was the President. The weather forecast for the speech was bad, and President Eisenhower’s brother expressed concern about the weather. Ike replied: “Milton, I haven't worried about the weather since June 6th, 1944.”
As I look at this great gathering here this evening, I have tried to appreciate what this evening might mean to each of you.
I imagine some of you veterans may walk over to the Memorial, and reflect on the battles you fought and on the stars representing so many fallen. You might be flooded with memories -- split-second images, fleeting and yet forever.
Please know fully what your service has meant to America. As long as we have freedom and as long as our flag still waves, our country will honor you.
Some of you tonight might find seated near you a Brit or an Australian or others of our comrades in arms during civilization’s great peril. Once more, we stand together against another threat to our way of life. Still others tonight may encounter someone from Japan or Germany -- and welcome them as friends. Or amid this gathering tonight, you might see a young child, looking around, a little curious, kind of wondering what all this is about. Tell them that once there was a time when the world was seized with darkness and the work of world salvation was hard and ugly and it was borne on the backs of noble men. Remind them of what a Navy Captain wrote to his son upon hearing of the Japanese surrender. He wrote: “When you grow a little older, you may think war to be a great adventure. Take it from me -- it’s the most horrible thing ever done by man.”
Tell them why sixteen million Americans -- straight from farms, factories, schools, and offices -- became Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Marines. And who with Allies from six continents turned companies of strangers into bands of brothers -- storming battlefields where history was made, and where heroes were lost, and where freedom was rescued.
With civilization again in peril, we pledge to remember those lessons forged amid the tumult and triumph of that World War.
And we pledge
- To ensure the survival of the freedoms entrusted to us;
- To reject appeasement or accommodation with evil; and
- To settle for nothing less than victory -- unapologetic in our purpose, uncompromising in our mission, and unyielding in our quest for freedom and for peace.
Thank you. God bless you and may God bless our wonderful country.