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Remarks Honoring the 1st Infantry Division

June 01, 1994

Thank you so much, Colonel Nechey, for your introduction, for your comments, for your heroic devotion to your country. General Sullivan, General Talbott, Mr. Stanton, we stand here today in the shadow of Winged Victory, the statue atop the monument to the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red 1. The motto says it all, "No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, beauty first." The number "1" tells us not only your division's name but the faith your country has placed in you for quite a long while now. You have been first in battle for as long as you have existed: the first in Paris in World War I, the first on the Normandy beaches, the first Army division in Vietnam, the first to breach Iraqi defenses in Desert Storm.

In a few moments I will leave to begin this historic trip to Europe to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day and the other crucial battles of World War II. I want to take a moment here briefly to thank the Department of Defense and the World War II Commemorative Committee for all their hard work in organizing these observances. In Europe we will be remembering the sacrifices of the generation that fought that great war. They have given us 50 years of freedom and strong nationhood. They have nurtured generations of young Americans and given us a chance to work with the rest of the world to bring the cold war to an end and to build toward the 21st century.

Before we leave to honor those who fought and died in the Second World War, I think we should also say a word here on American soil about those who were here at home during that war and who, themselves, were also heroes. They made a contribution, whether they were women who built aircraft or rolled bandages, farmers who grew food for troops, men who in my State and many others worked as much as 16 hours in coal mines breathing coal dust and wrecking their bodies to keep our engine of production going, or children who collected scrap metal and rubber for our production. Worried about loved ones overseas, the homefront army of democracy kept the faith to build the wartime output that made D-Day and victory possible.

With the strong leadership of President Roosevelt, they awakened the slumbering genius and giant of American industry. In 1940, our Navy had no landing craft. By 1944 there were over 25,000. In 1940, the United States produced fewer than 500 airplanes a month. In 1941, F.D.R. called for 4,000 a month and everyone thought he was a little crazy. But by D-Day, Rosie the Riveter and her coworkers were rolling out planes at twice the pace Roosevelt asked for.

After the war that same generation turned their energies to building a new prosperity. They built schools and highways and a sense of common purpose that put the country back on track, through the GI bill and housing initiatives and other things that built the strongest middle class in all of human history.

On D-Day Americans gathered around the radio to join President Roosevelt in prayer. "Success," he said, "may not come with rushing speed. But we shall return again and again. And we know that by Thy grace and by the righteousness of our cause our sons will triumph."

Today we face new challenges at home and abroad. We know, too, as then, our successes will not come with rushing speed. But we must see our battles through to the end. As it was on D-Day, America will be at work next Monday, June 6th. For one moment on that Monday you might pause and reflect, 50 years ago on this day, at this hour, the men and women of America saved democracy in Europe and changed the course of history for the world.

Wherever you are then, I hope you will have some time to look at the ceremonies. I hope you will think about how we can honor their legacy by carrying it on. That is the greatest honor of all.

One of the greatest privileges I have as President is to represent all of our country in honoring those who won World War II. This week let us all, from the President to every other citizen, do our best to say a simple thank you. Thank you for what you did. Thank you for the years you have given us. Thank you for the example you have set through sacrifice and courage and determination.

It is fitting that we should begin here, in the shadow of this great monument to the 1st Army Division. Let us all, all of us Americans, spend this next week in gratitude, in reflection, and with resolve.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:22 a.m. at the 1st Division Monument. In his remarks, he referred to Col. Walter F. Nechey, USA (Ret.), 1st Infantry Division D-Day veteran; Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Chief of Staff, Army; Lt. Gen. Orwin C. Talbott, USA (Ret.), president, Society of the 1st Infantry Division; and Robert Stanton, regional director, National Park Service.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Honoring the 1st Infantry Division Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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