Nearly 59 years after the end of World War II, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, May 29, 2004.
The dedication of the memorial was the culmination of an 11-year effort that started when the memorial was authorized by Congress on May 25, 1993. Construction began September 4, 2001, after several years of fund raising and public hearings. The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004.
The dedication celebration spanned four days and included a WWII-themed reunion exhibition on the National Mall staged in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, a service of celebration and thanksgiving at the Washington National Cathedral, and an entertainment salute to WWII veterans from military performing units.
Four-Day Tribute to a Generation Celebration Draws Hundreds of Thousands to the National Mall
A four-day celebration from May 27 through May 30, 2004, featured the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, and paid tribute to the service and sacrifice of America’s World War II generation. The Tribute to a Generation events included wartime reminiscences, reunions, big band and swing music, WWII memorabilia and equipment displays, a religious service, military ceremonial units, and educational opportunities for all ages.
More than 150,000 people turned out Saturday, May 29, 2004, for the dedication ceremony on the National Mall. Two hours of lively pre-ceremony entertainment began at noon, taking attendees back to the wartime era through music, video images, newsreel clips, and reminiscences of the time. Postmaster General John E. Potter and John F. Walsh of the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new postage stamp depicting the World War II Memorial. Remarks by Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur followed, along with a video chronicling the creation of the memorial.
The formal dedication ceremony began at 2 p.m. with a presentation of state flags and an invocation by Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, a World War II Chaplain. General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.), chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, welcomed attendees to the event. Notable speakers followed, including:
Tom Brokaw – News Anchor and Author
It goes without saying that this for me is a special privilege here today, because we gather to pay tribute to sacrifice and valor, to common cause and compassion, to triumph and determination. It has taken too long to erect this monument to symbolize the gratitude of our nation now and forever more to those of you who answered the call at home and abroad in what General Kelley rightly called the greatest war the world has ever known. A war in which more than 50 million people perished in their homes and on the battlefields a long way from home; in infernos at sea and beneath the sea and planes falling from the sky; in gas ovens and in slave labor camps. A war for all of its cruelties and terrible cost was a just war and a great victory that will be remembered for as long as history is recorded.
So it is fitting that we gather today around this handsome and evocative monument to such a noble undertaking. But no monument, however well positioned or polished, can take the place of the enduring legacy of all of you, the people that we honor here today. Your lives and how you lived them, the country you defended and loved and cared for the rest of your days, that is the undeniable legacy of you, the men and women I call “The Greatest Generation.” Now my declaration that this is the greatest generation has occasionally been challenged even by members of that generation. My short answer is, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
My longer answer, however, can be found in the trials and triumphs of your generation. At an early age this generation learned the harsh reality of deprivation and common cause during the great depression. They quit school not to indulge their selfish interest but to put food on the family table or shoes on their brothers and sisters. They just didn’t double date, they went six and eight to a car to a dance or a movie where admission was maybe a dime. They learned to live without more than with. And as their children learned later, they never took a dollar for granted, or spent one without thinking about it first.
Veterans here today will tell you that the first thing they noticed about basic training was breakfast. You could eat all that you wanted. Many got their first new pair of boots or trousers in basic training after a young life of hand-me-downs. Many will also tell you that before war came to America at Pearl Harbor they were opposed to this country getting involved. But when the Japanese attacked and the Germans declared war they converted overnight and transformed America into a mighty military machine and uniform and factories and laboratories and shipyards and coal mines and farm fields and shops and offices.
Men, women, young and old, everyone had a role. Farm boys who had never been in an airplane were soon flying new bombers with four engines. Surgical nurses were in mash units on front lines operating while they were being shelled. Teenagers were wearing sergeant stripes and fighting from North Africa to Rome. Guys from the city streets were in close quarter combat in dense jungles. Women were building ships and whatever were needed and driving trucks. Kids went without gum and new toys and in too many cases they went the rest of their lives without fathers they never knew.
In the halls of Congress and at the White House they bet the future of this country on the absolute necessity of unconditional victory while simultaneously creating new international, political, financial, and military institutions and alliances that protected and enhanced America’s national interests through cooperation and common goals, through not just shared strength, but also a shared commitment to diplomacy.
And when victory was complete, this generation, all of you, returned to this country and married in record numbers and went to college in record numbers thanks to the G.I. Bill. You gave us new industries and new art, new science, and unparalleled prosperity. But you also understood the real meaning of victory. You did not take revenge. Instead, you embarked on your next mission. Unprecedented for military victors, you rebuilt the shattered countries and confidence of your enemies.
Wherever you settled, you brought with them a discipline and maturity beyond your years, shaped by the hardships of depression, the training and the horrors and the deprivations of war. Those of you who returned with unshakable nightmares of war were held through long nights by your uncomplaining wives, and when daybreak came you went off together to resume your lives without whining or whimpering.
You were conditioned to serve so you became members of the school board or elders in your church, you ran for mayor and governor and Congress, the Senate and the White House. You were the join-up generation. You had given so much, but you didn’t hesitate to give more. Because too many of your friends had died defending the way of life and system of government that is renewed only by good people willing to do the right thing. Some of you became rich, famous and powerful. But the tell-tale strength of this generation came from the ordinary men and women who awoke every morning to tend to the needs of their families, their communities, their nation, and mankind without expectation of recognition or reward. Not every member had a common point of view. There were ferocious political battles by day, and one shared concern by night fall, what is best for the country?
On some issues it took a little longer than others. While this was a great generation, it was not perfect. When the men came home, it took them a while to fully appreciate the right of women to take their place at their side whatever the endeavor. And despite the patriotism and the courage of black Americans and Hispanic-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Native Americans and other people of color during the war, it took too long, much too long, to legally and morally confront the cancer of racism.
When America was divided by another war and a cultural upheaval, “The Greatest Generation” was bewildered and divided, as well. It didn’t give up on the generation that came after, their kids. Even though you wanted them to cut their hair, to get married before they lived together, and for God’s sake turn down the music. Moreover, as the men and women of “The Greatest Generation” know not everyone in their own generation was up to the standard. There were the slackers and the cowards; the profiteers and the blowhards; the bullies and the boneheads. But they’ve been forgotten now. They have been lost in the pettiness of their own behavior, overwhelmed by the sweeping and indisputable achievement of the authentic members of your generation, “The Greatest Generation.”
On a personal note, I want to thank all of you for the privilege of sharing your stories and your lives. I am humbled by our relationship. Those of us in succeeding generations are deeply indebted to you for first giving so much of your youth, your families and your friends to war, and then so much of the rest of your days to your country, and to the world. As I know personally, so many of you have been reluctant to talk about those difficult days because the painful memories have not faded. And because, as so many of you have said, you were the lucky ones. You came back. You survived. So many of your friends did not.
So you have felt an enduring obligation, a duty to them. To live your life in a way that honors them. Your lives have led the way in war and peace. And now it falls to the succeeding generations, to the rest of us to honor your lives, the greatest legacy of “the Greatest Generation,” not with words or memorials or ceremonies or tributes. We are honored and obligated to honor you with our lives by fulfilling our duty, the duty to carry on your noble mission. I salute each and every one of you. Thank you all very much.
It’s now my pleasure to introduce a man who embodied the best of the greatest generation in his portrayal of Captain John Miller, Charlie Company, Fifth Rangers in Saving Private Ryan with his friend and collaborator, Steven Spielberg. He also gave the nation a Band of Brothers, that memorable account of heroism, loyalty and humility in combat. And when the need was greatest for this memorial, this remarkable American answered the call without hesitation. He is a movie star. But as I have come to know from personal experience, he is first a husband, a father, and a citizen. Ladies and gentlemen, the youngest member of “The Greatest Generation,” the schoolteacher from Pennsylvania, Ranger Captain John Miller, my friend Tom Hanks.
Tom Hanks – National Spokesman for the World War II Memorial Campaign
Had this memorial been erected at war’s end, the surviving participants of the Second World War would long ago have gathered here to remember those lost in that conflagration. Those that survived the battlefield, who aided in provisions, and who sacrificed comforts would have already dedicated this memorial and then gone on to live in a new, still imperfect world.
But as we now live in the Third Millennium, time demands that more than the fallen be remembered in this place of National Honor. Let us remember not just those who lost their lives in the war, but all Americans who were alive, conscientious, and chose to serve as best they could in the years from 1941 to 1945. It is no embellishment to say their lives were interrupted, their futures were altered, their dreams were held in stasis while every minute of their youth was burdened with fear, with loss and with uncertainty. For them, each day began with unanswerable questions as to when peace would come, when liberators would rise, if tolerance could fill the dark void left by terror or if tyrants were to rule half the world. Everyday they asked themselves “what can I do?” and then provided their own answer.
Against twin enemies who believed they were genetically, racially, theologically and institutionally superior to all others in the world, those Americans and their allies proved them not only wrong, but foolish. In a 45-month long battle against the conceit that moral superiority can be declared, those Americans across the sea and at home in the United States – many of you who have made it here today – proved that true human morality can only be demonstrated – by deed, by sacrifice and ultimately by mercy.
Lingering through the years though, is a question – asked every time we sing our National Anthem – a question which will be as relevant to our American character a century from today as it was sixty years ago.
The first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner asks not merely about our flag, but about ourselves. In time each generation is called to answer that question as it sees fit, as it must. If our nation is to last, if liberty is to be the standard for the world, if truth is to be our legacy, if tolerance is to reign over humankind – all generations will respond to that query as did those Americans whose spirit we memorialize here in granite and bronze. As demonstrated by the sacrifices made by those alive in 1941 and by those who never saw 1946 – you, our extended national family declared by your actions that, yes, our flag still flies, we do come from a land of the free and America is a home of the brave.
Senator Bob Dole
Senator Bob Dole – National Chairman for the World War II Memorial Campaign
In the first week of January 1945, a hungry and lonesome second lieutenant from small town Kansas dispatched a message to his folks back home: “You can send me something to eat whenever you are ready,” he wrote. “Send candy, gum, cookies, cheese, grape jelly, popcorn, nuts, peanut clusters, Vicks Vapo Rub, wool socks, wool scarf, fudge, cookies, ice cream, liver and onions, fried chicken, banana cake, milk, fruit cocktail, Swiss steaks, crackers, more candy, Lifesavers, peanuts, the piano, the radio, the living room suite, the record player and Frank Sinatra. I guess you might as well send the whole house if you can get it into a five-pound box. P.S., keep your fingers crossed.
In authoring that only slightly exaggerated wish list I merely echoed the longings of 16 million Americans whose greatest wish was for an end to the fighting. Sixty years on our ranks have dwindled for the thousands assembled here on the Mall and the millions more watching all across America in living rooms and hospitals and wherever it may be – our men and women overseas and our friends in Great Britain and our allies all around the world. Our final reunion cannot long be delayed.
Yet if we gather in the twilight it is brightened by the knowledge that we have kept faith with our comrades. Sustained by over 600,000 individual contributions, we have raised this memorial to commemorate the service and sacrifice of an entire generation. What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war, rather it’s a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspires Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.
This is also a memorial to the American people who in the crucible of war forged a unity that became our ultimate weapon. Just as we pulled together in the course of a common threat 60 years ago, so today’s Americans united to build this memorial. Small children held their grandfather’s hand while dropping pennies in a collection box. Entire families contributed in memory of loved ones who could win every battle except the battle against time. I think of my brother, Kenny, and my brothers-in-law Larry Nelson and Allen Steel, just three among the millions of ghosts in navy blue and olive drab we honor with this memorial.
Of course, not every warrior wore a uniform. As it happens, today is the 101st birthday of Bob Hope, the GI’s favorite entertainer who did more to boost our morale than anyone next to Betty Grable. And I can already hear Bob…”but I was next to Betty Grable.” And it’s hard to believe, but today is also the 87th birthday of John F. Kennedy, a hero of the south Pacific, who, a generation after the surrender documents were signed aboard the USS Missouri, spoke of a new generation of Americans tempered by war that was nevertheless willing “to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.” And we shall always honor the memory of our great leader and our American hero, General Eisenhower, who led us to victory all across the world.
As we meet here today, young Americans are risking their lives in liberty’s defense. They are the latest link in a chain of sacrifice older than America itself. After all, if we met the test of our times, it was because we drew inspiration from those who had gone before, including the giants of history who are enshrined on this Mall, from Washington, who fathered America with his sword and ennobled it with his character… from Jefferson, whose pen gave eloquent voice to our noblest aspirations…from Lincoln, who preserved the Union and struck the chains from our countrymen…and from Franklin Roosevelt, who presided over a global coalition to rescue humanity from those who had put the soul itself in bondage. Each of these presidents was a soldier of freedom. And in the defining event of the 20th century, their cause became our cause. On distant fields and fathomless oceans, the skies over half the planet and in 10,000 communities on the home front, we did far more than avenge Pearl Harbor. The citizen soldiers who answered liberty’s call fought not for territory, but for justice, not for plunder, but to liberate enslaved peoples around the world.
In contending for democracy abroad, we learned painful lessons about our own democracy. For us, the Second World War was in effect a second American revolution. The war invited women into the workforce. It exposed the injustice on African Americans, Hispanics and Japanese Americans and others who demonstrated yet again that war is an equal opportunity employer. What we learned in foreign fields of battle we applied in post-war America. As a result, our democracy, though imperfect, is more nearly perfect than in the days of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. That’s what makes America forever a work in progress – a land that has never become, but is always in the act of becoming. And that’s why the armies of democracy have earned a permanent place on this sacred ground.
It is only fitting when this memorial was opened to the public about a month ago the very first visitors were school children. For them, our war is ancient history and those who fought it are slightly ancient themselves. Yet, in the end, they are the ones for whom we built this shrine and to whom we now hand the baton in the unending relay of humidity possibility.
Certainly the heroes represented by the 4,000 gold stars on the freedom wall need no monument to commemorate their sacrifice. They are known to God and to their fellow soldiers, who will mourn their passing until the day of our own. In their names, we dedicate this place of meditation, and it is in their memory that I ask you to stand, if possible, and join me in a moment of silent tribute to remind us all that at sometime in our life, we have or may be called upon to make a sacrifice for our country to preserve liberty and freedom…
…God bless America.
Frederick W. Smith
Frederick W. Smith – National Co-chairman for the World War II Memorial Campaign and Founder and Chairman of FedEx Corporation
It seems so long ago now that Senator Dole asked me to help raise funds for this magnificent memorial you have just seen. It was the summer of 1997 and he had been national chairman of the fund-raising campaign for only a few months. The campaign was in its embryonic stage, slowly picking up momentum. But it really wasn’t until the summer of 1998 that we began to see solid results.
If you remember, that’s when Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan put a face to the World War II generation for millions of Americans, reminding us of the selfless courage, dedication and sacrifice so common during the war years. Tom Brokaw further defined the greatest generation as ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And Tom Hanks began telling the American people that it was time to say thank you. At that point the memorial honoring the sacrifices made during the Second World War came to represent an entire generation of Americans who selflessly left their homes for battlefields, factories and farms, doing whatever it took to meet the needs of a nation at war.
Now, every family has stories to tell of those years including my own with six World War II veterans in it. The World War II themed films and books that became popular as we reached the end of the 20th century encouraged others to share those stories and generated increased awareness of our efforts to fund the World War II Memorial.
Our fund raising became a campaign across America from corporate boardrooms to school classrooms; from the largest veterans organizations to the smallest reunion groups; from state legislatures to individual homes. Many of our contributors are listed in your program. Their gifts led the way but every bit as important were individuals like young Zane Fayos from Fayetteville, New York. He gave his entire life savings of $195 to say thank you to grandma and grandpa. We sincerely thank everyone who did their part, large or small to make this memorial a reality.
Being part of this national memorial project has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional life. And it has been a special honor to work along side a man who has become the personification of America’s World War II veterans. As most of you know, Senator Bob Dole was a distinguished combat leader, grievously wounded, whose incredible tenacity allowed him to come to the national stage and go on to become one of our nation’s greatest leaders. It is my distinct pleasure and my great honor, ladies and gentlemen, to introduce the national chairman of the World War II Memorial Fund-raising Campaign, one of the true greats of the greatest generation, Senator Bob Dole.
Following the speeches, a Marine bugler performed taps inside the memorial. Gen. Kelley then presented the World War II Memorial to President George W. Bush, who received the memorial on behalf of the American people. President Bush noted that it is “a fitting tribute, open and expansive, like America; grand and enduring, like the achievements we honor.” The ceremony concluded with Denyce Graves leading The National Anthem and God Bless America. Dr. Barry C. Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, offered the closing benediction. Click on underlined names to read speeches.
National World War II Reunion
The Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in partnership with ABMC organized the National World War II Reunion. The reunion drew an estimated 315,000 people over four days, from May 27 through May 30.
Activities of the reunion included:
- Reunion Hall – A central gathering place for all World War II generation members attending the dedication celebration.
- Two large performance pavilions where guests heard the live sounds of big band, swing and other music from the WWII era.
- Wartime Stories Tent – Narrative sessions, interviews and workshops on a variety of topics, and chats with prominent WWII veterans.
- Veterans History Project Tent – The Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress presented interviews, speakers and exhibits that showcased first-hand accounts of those who served in uniform and on the home front. Library of Congress representatives also provided information and workshops on how to write, record, audio/videotape and preserve personal histories.
- Preserving Memories – Experts from the National Archives, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress advised veterans and their families on how best to preserve the documents, scrapbooks, photos, medals and memorabilia from WWII.
- Building the Memorial – This pavilion featured an exhibition on the planning and building of the memorial.
- Veterans Services – Representatives from Veterans Affairs, other federal agencies and other veterans service organizations were on hand to provide information on veterans’ resources and benefits that are available.
- Family Activities – Children of all ages engaged in hands-on activities relating to the WWII period.
- Military Equipment Display – Throughout the Reunion site were displays of military artifacts and equipment.
Salute to World War II Veterans
The armed forces ceremonial and musical units stationed in Washington, D.C. staged an entertainment salute to all WWII veterans. Talented members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard performed. Four two hour performances were held at the MCI Center, a large indoor arena in downtown Washington, D.C.
A Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving
An interfaith service was held Saturday, May 29, at 10 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral. This service celebrated the dedication of the memorial and remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Military and civilian clergy, as well as WWII dignitaries, participated in the service at the cathedral known as A National House of Prayer for all People.
General John W. Vessey, U.S. Army (Retired)
General John W. Vessey, U.S. Army (Retired) – U.S. Army (Retired), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving
What a beautiful day and beautiful setting in which to say thanks to those who served the nation during World War II, and to say a special thanks to those who’ve made the nation’s new monument to that service a reality – the American Battle Monuments Commission chaired by General Kelley, and all the diligent supporters, led by Senator Dole. Thank you!
Three magnificent monuments have long beautified our Capitol City and reminded us of great events and great men which shaped our nation in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The Jefferson and Washington monuments remind us of the 18th Century’s bold, daring Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War to gain our freedom, and the work of the founding fathers to form a nation state and give us a Constitution guaranteeing the rights and freedoms our citizens enjoy and which are the envy of most of the world. The Lincoln Memorial reminds us of the 19th Century’s great trial for this National and the man who led us when we struggled to affirm that we are One Nation, and that our Declaration of Independence was true and that all men are truly “…created equal with certain unalienable rights…”
Today we’ll dedicate a monument to America’s 20th Century efforts in World War II, an event which, too, shaped our nation, but which also, both literally and figuratively took the whole world apart and put it together again in a different form.
This new monument is not to glorify war, but rather to recognize the defining event of the 20th Century, and the overwhelming effort of the American people and their Armed Forces. Over 12 percent of the population served in the Armed Forces in contrast to about 1 percent serving today. While most able-bodied 18-35 year-old males, the traditional heart of the farm and factory work force, were in the Armed Forces, American industry, with a huge influx of new workers, most of whom were women, was engaged in an enormous effort to arm us and our allies. Many shipyards were launching a new ship each week. Aircraft factories were producing nearly 100,000 airplanes a year. Countless tanks, trucks, and cannons rolled off assembly lines operating 24 hours per day. Our farms were feeding us and our allies. Fifty percent of our economy was going to the war effort! Nearly everyone was involved either fighting, supporting the fighters, or supporting those supporting the fighters. One million Americans were casualties; over 400,000 died. As President Roosevelt said in one of his early, post-Pearl Harbor, radio addresses to the Nation, “We are now in this war. We are all in it. All the way. Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in this most tremendous undertaking in our American History!”
We were led by giants, giants in the White House, giants in the Congress, and giants in the Armed Forces. Our leaders made bold, courageous, very risky decisions, but those leaders were also fallible humans whose decisions and plans weren’t always as perfect as we might have hoped. We, who carried out their decisions, were also fallible humans, and certainly didn’t do everything as well as we might have. There were mistakes and lapses of courage and judgment. Nevertheless, both nationally and individually, we acted responsibly, and we did what we could to right what went wrong. The wrong doers, whether soldiers who committed crimes against noncombatants or war profiteers at home, were prosecuted and punished. The sweat, blood and bravery of the many washed away the stain of the few who dishonored the nation and its Armed Forces. The Nation’s unity remained intact during the very darkest moments and through some truly dreadful defeats. The relentless march to victory always continued.
Sixty years ago today, America and her allies were engaged across nearly the entire globe. In the Pacific, U.S. Army troops were battling along the north coast of New Guinea, U.S. Naval forces were engaged in great sea and air battles in the Marianas as Marines prepared to assault those islands. Merrill’s Marauders and other Army troops joined British and Chinese allies in the fighting in the China-Burma border region. Our Navy and Merchant Marine battled submarines to get supplies to us and our allies, including the brave Russian forces fighting great battles in Eastern Europe. In Britain, hundreds of thousands of U.S. and British troops were preparing for the monumental invasion of Normandy eight days hence. American and British air armadas were pounding targets in Germany and France. As for me, personally, I was with my division, the 34th, fighting in the Alban Hills on the approaches to Rome. By that time, we had been in combat about a year and a half in North Africa and Italy. We had fought alongside troops from Britain, France, New Zealand, Canada, India, Algeria, Morocco, Poland, Brazil, and even those of our earlier opponent, Italy. It was indeed a World War.
I, like most of my comrades, fought in strange places because we had sworn to support and defend the Constitution and obey the orders of the President and the officers appointed over us, and not because we understood the grand vision of our leaders for a world embracing the “Four Freedoms,” freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Those leaders recognized that when freedom is denied anywhere, it is threatened everywhere. The world created in the aftermath of World War II didn’t completely embody those freedoms. It wasn’t a perfect world. It did, however, bring new freedoms and opportunity to hundreds of millions of people, including the people of our former enemy nations. Empire and colonialism were headed for history’s dust bin, and America was headed into a new age of economic growth and prosperity with a new mantle for world leadership.
Now, we of the World War II generation are thinning in our ranks and hairlines – probably everywhere, but our waistlines. We are mindful that the freedom we enjoyed was a dividend from the sacrifices and perspiration of our forebears. In World War II and the years which followed, we added our blood and sweat to the Nation’s asset pool. We have now passed the baton to others. The memorial we dedicate today will help those who follow remember the Nation’s efforts and sacrifices in our time.
Today, American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen are again fighting difficult battles in strange places because they, too, swore an oath to defend the Constitution and to obey the orders of the President and the officers appointed over them, and because those who lead us again, believe they have made bold, courageous, risky decisions to make the Nation and the world safer places for all. We pray for their success and safety.
Today, in this house of prayer and worship, let us thank Almighty God for this great Nation and its heritage passed to us. Let us pray that God will keep our Nation, one united, freedom-loving, and respectful people with the spirit of wisdom and dedicated to the rule of law. Let us ask for the Lord’s blessing and guidance upon those who govern the United States and upon all those who defend her. Before we move to the dedication ceremony for the new Monument, let us pray that our Nation will, as Thomas Jefferson did, continue to “…pledge eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
General P. X. Kelley – U.S. Marine Corps (Retired), Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission
Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving
On behalf of the American Battle Monuments Commission, the executive agency authorized by Congress to establish a World War II Memorial, I wish to thank the Washington National Cathedral for conducting this service of celebration, thanksgiving and remembrance.
At 2:00 PM our National World War II Memorial will take its rightful place on the Mall — precisely on the centerline between memorials honoring Washington and Lincoln.
This morning I would like to share with you sentiments of our first and sixteenth Commanders-in-Chief—who, I know, will be watching our dedication ceremony and saying a heartfelt—Welcome!
On the occasion of retirement from Command of the Continental Army, General George Washington wrote to the governor of each state. These are words from his final benediction:
“I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you preside in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the divine author of our blessed Religion—without a humble imitation of these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation. Grant our supplications we beseech thee lord god of the universe.”
In remembering Abraham Lincoln we are reminded of his commitment in the aftermath of carnage at Gettysburg. It was there that the President of our young and divided nation said:
“… we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
It has been within the spirit of this solemn pledge that our nation has sent its most precious treasures, its sons and daughters, to human conflicts beyond our shores — not to seize — not to subjugate — not to occupy — but to preserve the inalienable right of all mankind to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The cost of this commitment has been staggering — during World War II, alone, 400,000 Americans in uniform made the supreme sacrifice — and almost 700,000 more were wounded and 78,000 remain missing. I earnestly pray that we never — ever — forget the price of freedom!
In closing, let me quote from words now permanently etched in granite at the entrance to our World War II Memorial:
Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln,
one the eighteenth century father and the other the
nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor
those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle
during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to
perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us—
a nation conceived in liberty and justice.
God bless and guide our great nation—our land of the free—may it always remain, the home of the brave.
President George H.W. Bush
President George H.W. Bush
Let me start by saluting Bob Dole, and everyone who served so selflessly and ably on the various committees, for seeing this amazing project through – and in so doing helping our Nation honor its solemn obligation never to forget. I bring similar greetings from President Ford, himself a World War II veteran, who regrets he was unable to be here today – and who asked me to extend his warmest wishes to his fellow veterans.
It is altogether fitting and proper that we gather this weekend and in this place to memorialize the people, places, and events that forever changed the course of history and turned back a rising tide of tyranny – when the fate of the free world hung in the balance.
The passage of time makes it easy to forget that the 1930s and 1940s were decades of great danger and uncertainty in our world. Led by fanatics, the armies we faced routinely and systematically killed without remorse – seeking to destroy the institutions and freedoms we have always held so dear. Such was their brutal, thoroughly evil nature that in hindsight their actions almost seem surreal – as if they occurred in another lifetime. Yet you need look no further than to the death camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka, or to the massacre at Nanjing, to understand the true depths of their depravity.
Defeating them would prove to be a difficult and deadly enterprise.
Winston Churchill often remarked to General Eisenhower that “we must take care that the tide does not run red with the blood of American and British youth, or the beaches be choked with their bodies.” In the end, the price of victory was indeed high – as Churchill feared – but today we also know that the price of defeat surely would have been far greater.
All that stood between the Axis Powers and their evil objectives was an ill-prepared, somewhat disparate alliance of free peoples – nations that were generally slow to anger, and perhaps even reluctant to fight at first, but who, once provoked, were unrelenting in their mission to see justice prevail.
Such was the case when history beckoned some six decades ago, and thrust the next generation of American heroes into the crucible of war. These were average men and women who lived in extraordinary times. No matter their role – on the home front, or on the front lines – they were united. No matter the danger or hardship, they responded with exceptional bravery.
Indeed, 60 years ago this very week, in what history will surely mark as one of the great achievements of mankind, two million sons from 15 countries jumped into flak-filled skies and a blood-soaked surf, and met death on an even plane, and on a horrible day filled with destruction helped save the world.
Meanwhile, half-way around the world, the same scene of selfless sacrifice played out on the volcanic beaches of Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal, and Tarawa as our Navy – having recovered from the devastation of Pearl Harbor – was well on its way to defeating the forces of Imperialism in Asia.
Tom Brokaw, in his wonderful book, called the World War II veterans the “greatest generation.” I respectfully disagree. The men and women who make up our all-volunteer forces fighting today in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and serving with honor and integrity in countless other locations around the world are every bit as great as any generation that preceded them. The comforts of modern society have not lessened the burdens that they have freely borne, just as their families have not been spared the constant pain of separation.
To each of them, no less a debt of gratitude is owed.
An inherent part of our birthright as Americans is a sacred duty to defend freedom. Today, we as Americans – now facing this new enemy in international terror – can take solace that despite the dangers we still face in our world, a new band of brothers has stepped forward and answered this timeless, noble call. This new generation loves America just as much as the patriots who fought in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm – and everywhere in between.
During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly kept a prayer at her bedside that read: “Help me to remember somewhere out there a man died for me today. As long as there be war, I must ask and answer ‘Am I worth dying for?”
Tonight when you go to sleep – and say your prayers of gratitude for those who served so many years ago in World War II – remember, too, that at that moment there is a young man or woman half-way around the world, sitting alone in the dark, waiting to go out on patrol. They may be tired, and even a little scared – but everyday they put on that uniform, and they lay their lives on the line for each of us, to keep us free and safe. They not only make us proud: despite the uncertainty of the times in which we find ourselves, they also inspire us, and give us confidence in our future.
And so while it is proper that we pause to look back, and reflect on the past heroism of one generation of Americans – and while we celebrate the long-overdue dedication of a National World War II Memorial – let us also not be afraid to look forward with renewed faith, hope, and courage that America’s best days are yet to be.
The National World War II Memorial 10th Anniversary Commemoration is co-hosted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service.
The event is generously sponsored by DAV (Disabled American Veterans), Target, FedEx Corporation, and Pepco Holdings, Inc.
Support also was provided by the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, Expeditors International of Washington, Inc., and Worthington Industries.
©2018 Friends of the National World War II Memorial
Friends is grateful to the following Founding Sponsors for their ongoing commitment to preserving the legacy, lessons, and sacrifices of our Greatest Generation.