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|THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. I'm honored to join with
President Clinton, President Bush, Senator Dole and other distinguished
guests on this day of remembrance and celebration. And, General
Kelley, here in the company of the generation that won the war, I
proudly accept the World War II Memorial on behalf of the people of the
United States of America. (Applause.)|
Raising up this Memorial took skill and vision and patience. Now
the work is done, and it is a fitting tribute, open and expansive, like
America; grand and enduring, like the achievements we honor. The years
of World War II were a hard, heroic and gallant time in the life of our
country. When it mattered most, an entire generation of Americans
showed the finest qualities of our nation and of humanity. On this
day, in their honor, we will raise the American flag over a monument
that will stand as long as America itself.
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|In the history books, the Second World War can appear as a series of crises and conflicts, following an inevitable course -- from Pearl Harbor to the Coast of Normandy to the deck of the Missouri. Yet, on
the day the war began, and on many hard days that followed, the outcome was far from certain.
There was a time, in the years before the war, when many earnest
and educated people believed that democracy was finished. Men who
considered themselves learned and civilized came to believe that free
institutions must give way to the severe doctrines and stern discipline
of a regimented society. Ideas first whispered in the secret councils
of a remote empire, or shouted in the beer halls of Munich, became mass
movements. And those movements became armies. And those armies moved
mercilessly forward -- until the world saw Hitler strutting in Paris,
and U.S. Navy ships burning in their own port. Across the world, from
a hiding place in Holland to prison camps of Luzon, the captives
awaited their liberators.
Those liberators would come, but the enterprise would require the
commitment and effort of our entire nation. As World War II began,
after a decade of economic depression, the United States was not a rich
country. Far from being a great power, we had only the 17th largest
army in the world. To fight and win on two fronts, Americans had to
work and save and ration and sacrifice as never before. War production
plants operated shifts around the clock. Across the country, families
planted victory gardens -- 20 million of them, producing 40 percent of
the nation's vegetables in backyards and on rooftops. Two out of every
three citizens put money into war bonds. As Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby
said, "This was a people's war, and everyone was in it."
As life changed in America, so did the way that Americans saw our
own country and its place in the world. The bombs at Pearl Harbor
destroyed the very idea that America could live in isolation from the
plots of aggressive powers. The scenes of the concentration camps, the
heaps of bodies and ghostly survivors, confirmed forever America's
calling to oppose the ideologies of death.
As we defended our ideals, we began to see that America is stronger
when those ideals are fully implemented. America gained strength
because women labored for victory and factory jobs, cared for the
wounded and wore the uniform, themselves. America gained strength
because African Americans and Japanese Americans and others fought for
their country, which wasn't always fair to them. In time, these
contributions became expectations of equality, and the advances for
justice in post-war America made us a better country.
With all our flaws, Americans at that time had never been more
united. And together we began and completed the largest single task in
our history. At the height of conflict, America would have ships on
every ocean, and armies on five continents. And on the most crucial of
days, would move the equivalent of a major city across the English
And all these vast movements of men and armor were directed by one
man who could not walk on his own strength. President Roosevelt
brought his own advantages to the job. His resolve was stronger than
the will of any dictator. His belief in democracy was absolute. He
possessed a daring that kept the enemy guessing. He spoke to Americans
with an optimism that lightened their task. And one of the saddest
days of the war came just as it was ending, when the casualty notice in
the morning paper began with the name, Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Across the years, we still know his voice. And from his words, we
know that he understood the character of the American people.
Dictators and their generals had dismissed Americans as no match for a
master race. FDR answered them. In one of his radio addresses, he
said, "We have been described as a nation of weaklings, playboys. Let
them tell that to General McArthur and his men. Let them tell that to
the boys in the flying fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines."
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|In all, more than 16 million Americans would put on the uniform of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the Marine, the Coast Guardsman or the Merchant Mariner.
They came from city streets and prairie towns, from public high schools and West Point.
They were a modest bunch, and still are. The ranks were filled with men like Army Private
Joe Sakato. In heavy fighting in France, he saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Sakato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding two, capturing four, and inspiring his whole unit to take the hill and
destroy the enemy. (Applause.) Looking back on it 55 years later, Joe
Sakato said, "I'm not a hero. Nowadays they call what I did 'road
This man's conduct that day gained him the Medal of Honor, one of
464 awarded for actions in World War II. Americans in uniform served
bravely, fought fiercely and kept their honor -- even under the worst
of conditions. Yet they were not warriors by nature. All they wanted
was to finish the job and make it home. One soldier in the 58th Armor
Field Artillery was known to have the best-kept rifle in the unit. He
told his buddies he had plans for that weapon after the war. He said,
"I want to take it home, cover it in salt, hang it on a wall in my
living room so I can watch it rust."
These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of
us are very proud to call them Dad. They gave the best years of their
lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted.
(Applause.) They faced the most extreme danger, which took some and
spared others, for reasons only known to God. And wherever they
advanced or touched ground, they are remembered for their goodness and
their decency. A Polish man recalls being marched through the German
countryside in the last weeks of the war, when American forces suddenly
appeared. He said, "Our two guards ran away. And this soldier with
little blonde hair jumps off his tank. 'You're free,' he shouts at
us. We started hugging each other, crying and screaming, 'God sent
angels down to pick us up out of this hell place.'"
Well, our boys weren't exactly angels. They were flesh and blood,
with all the limits and fears of flesh and blood. That only makes the
achievement more remarkable -- the courage they showed, in a conflict
that claimed more than 400,000 American lives, leaving so many orphans
and widows and Gold Star Mothers.
The soldiers' story was best told by the great Ernie Pyle, who
shared their lives and died among them. In his book, "Here Is Your
War," he described World War II as many veterans now remember it. It
is a picture, he wrote, "of tired and dirty soldiers, who are alive and
don't want to die; of long, darkened convoys in the middle of the
night; of shocked, silent men wandering back down the hill from battle;
of Jeeps and petrol dumps and smelly bedding roles and C-rations; and
blown bridges and dead mules and hospital tents and shirt collars
greasy-black from months of wearing; and of laughter, too, and anger,
and wine, and lovely flowers and constant cussing. All these, it is
composed of; and of graves and graves and graves."
On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and
decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are
thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who
watched the train leave, and the years pass, can still see the handsome
face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them, either.
At this place, at this Memorial, we acknowledge a debt of
long-standing to an entire generation of Americans: those who died;
those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our
country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind. And now I ask every
man and woman who saw and lived World War II -- every member of that
generation -- to please rise as you are able, and receive the thanks of
our great nation.
May God bless you. (Applause.)