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National D-Day Museum Opening, Public Celebration
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana, Tuesday, June 06, 2000

Tom [Brokaw], thank you very much. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Last evening, Janet [Cohen] and I had the opportunity to stop by Brennan's Restaurant to pay tribute and say thanks to so many in this city and elsewhere who have made these two days possible. I commented at that time, paraphrasing Thackeray, that New Orleans is the city where you can eat the most, drink the most and suffer the least. [Laughter] And I would like to add for the past two days that New Orleans has been the city where I have spoken the most, and I hope you have suffered the least. [Laughter and applause.]

I can't tell you what it was like to be in that audience today, in that parade, as I watched all of those men and women march by, and the feeling that I had deep in my heart. I did a number of interviews during the course of the last two days, and each time a reporter would say, "What is the significance of this museum?" The short answer is, it forces us to pause and to reflect about the meaning of who we are and what we've done and what we're going to do tomorrow.

If you look at the futurists like Alvin Toffler who about 30 years ago said that we were living in a time of future shock, a time when events were going to speed up time itself, and that our values and our customs and our traditions would be shaken in the hurricane winds of change. And I think all of us have come to appreciate how technology has actually miniaturized the world. The world today is not much bigger than a ball spinning on the finger of science.

But we also know that technology is neutral. It can be used for good or evil. It was Winston Churchill who reminded us of this in that great Iron Curtain speech that he gave so many years ago when he said that, "We can return to the Stone Age on the gleaming wings of science." So what is really important as we rocket our way into the future is the preservation of our values.

I had a professor once who said that ideals without technology is a mess, but technology and technique without ideals is a menace. That's really what is at the heart of this new museum, to capture our ideals and our values.

I couldn't help but be struck last evening in watching "The Shooting War" produced by Richard Schickel and also be mindful of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," that how absolutely random war is; why so many died, and so many others lived.

I think it was Patton who said, "Let us not ask God why young men such as these should die in war. Let us rather thank God that such men lived." Without them, we would be living in a very different world. [Applause.] These men and women gave so much for us so that we could be here gathered in this wonderful arena to celebrate life and the future.

But I recall the words of Elie Wiesel who was a young boy then. He was waiting behind that Atlantic Wall, unaware that his liberators were jumping through that eerie dawn. Wiesel years later offered this thought. He said, "A museum is a place where we should feel united in memory." And that's what I felt today. That's what I feel when I look at all of the men and women who have served us, all of our heroes, that I feel united in memory. That's the essence of what this museum is going to represent.

I'd like to close with thanks, first of all, to President Clinton for giving me the opportunity to serve in the greatest capacity that one could ever hope to achieve, to represent the men and women in uniform all across our country, who are scattered all across the globe. He has given me and Janet an opportunity to serve and to say that when it comes to national security there are no politics involved. There are no Republicans or Democrats or Independents. There is only one America for all of us in service. (Applause.)

I would like to close with noting that the oldest soldier to land in the first wave on that day was Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. And as he stood on that beach in mid-century he may have recalled his father's words at the optimistic dawn of the 1900s. He said, "Greet the new century high of heart, and face the mighty task which the coming years will surely bring."

So today we're greeting a new century and dedicating this hall of heroes. To us falls the challenge to go forward with high hearts, prepared to meet the might tasks of tomorrow, and to recall with grateful hearts noble men who carried the world across that long and now sacred slip of shore. Let us say thank you very much. [Applause.]