Remarks at a Memorial Day Ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Mr. President and Mrs. Chirac; Secretary Powell and Secretary Principi; members of the United States Congress; members of the American Armed Services; veterans, family members; fellow Americans and friends: We have gathered on this quiet corner of France as the sun rises on Memorial Day in the United States of America. This is a day our country has set apart to remember what was gained in our wars and all that was lost.
Our wars have won for us every hour we live in freedom. Our wars have taken from us the men and women we honor today and every hour of the lifetimes they had hoped to live.
This day of remembrance was first observed to recall the terrible casualties of the war Americans fought against each other. In the nearly 14 decades since, our Nation's battles have all been far from home. Here on the continent of Europe were some of the fiercest of those battles, the heaviest losses, and the greatest victories. And in all those victories, American soldiers came to liberate, not to conquer. The only land we claim as our own are the resting places of our men and women.
More than 9,000 are buried here, and many times that number have—of fallen soldiers lay in our cemeteries across Europe and America. From a distance, surveying row after row of markers, we see the scale and heroism and sacrifice of the young. We think of units sustaining massive casualties, men cut down crossing a beach or taking a hill or securing a bridge. We think of many hundreds of sailors lost in their ships.
The war correspondent Ernie Pyle told of a British officer walking across the battlefield just after the violence had ended. Seeing the bodies of American boys scattered everywhere, the officer said, in sort of a hushed eulogy spoken only to himself, "Brave men, brave men."
All who come to a place like this feel the enormity of the loss. Yet, for so many, there is a marker that seems to sit alone. They come looking for that one cross, that one Star of David, that one name. Behind every grave of a fallen soldier is a story of the grief that came to a wife, a mother, a child, a family, or a town.
A World War II orphan has described her family's life after her father was killed on a field in Germany. "My mother," she said, "had lost everything she was waiting for. She lost her dreams. There were an awful lot of perfect linen tablecloths in our house that never got used, so many things being saved for a future that was never to be."
Each person buried here understood his duty but also dreamed of going back home to the people and the things he knew. Each had plans and hopes of his own and parted with them forever when he died.
The day will come when no one is left who knew them, when no visitor to this cemetery can stand before a grave remembering a face and a voice. The day will never come when America forgets them. And our Nation and the world will always remember what they did here and what they gave here for the future of humanity.
As dawn broke during the invasion, a little boy in the village off of Gold Beach called out to his mother, "Look, the sea is black with boats." Spread out before them and over the horizon were more than 5,000 ships and landing craft. In the skies were some of the 12,000 planes sent on the first day of Operation Overlord. The Battle of Normandy would last many days, but June 6th, 1944, was the crucial day. The late President Francois Mitterrand said that nothing in history compares to D-day. "The 6th of June," he observed, "sounded the hour when history tipped toward the camp of freedom."
Before dawn, the first paratroopers already had been dropped inland. The story is told of a group of French women finding Americans and imploring them not to leave. A trooper said, "We're not leaving. If necessary, this is the place we die."
Units of Army Rangers on shore, in one of history's bravest displays, scaled cliffs directly in the gunfire, never relenting even as comrades died all around them. When they had reached the top, the Rangers radioed back the code for success, "Praise the Lord."
Only a man who was there, charging out of a landing craft, can know what it was like. For the entire liberating force, there was only the ground in front of them— no shelter, no possibility of retreat. They were part of the largest amphibious landing in history and perhaps the only great battle in which the wounded were carried forward. Survivors remember the sight of a Catholic chaplain, Father Joe Lacey, lifting dying men out of the water and comforting and praying with them. Private Jimmy Hall was seen carrying the body of his brother, Johnny, saying, "He can't. He can't be dead. I promised Mother I'd look after him."
Such was the size of the Battle of Normandy: Thirty-eight pairs of brothers died in the liberation, including Bedford and Raymond Hoback of Virginia, both who fell on D-day. Raymond's body was never found. All he left behind was his Bible, discovered in the sand. Their mother asked that Bedford be buried here as well, in the place Raymond was lost, so her sons would always be together.
On Memorial Day, America honors her own. Yet we also remember all the valiant young men and women from many Allied Nations, including France, who shared in the struggle here and in the suffering. We remember the men and women who served and died alongside Americans in so many terrible battles on this continent and beyond.
Words can only go so far in capturing the grief and sense of loss for the families of those who died in all our wars. For some military families in America and in Europe, the grief is recent, with the losses we have suffered in Afghanistan. They can know, however, that the cause is just. And like other generations, these sacrifices have spared many others from tyranny and sorrow.
Long after putting away his uniform, an American GI expressed his own pride and the truth about all who served, living and dead. He said, "I feel like I played my part in turning this from a century of darkness into a century of light."
Here where we stand today, the new world came back to liberate the old. A bond was formed of shared trial and shared victory. And a light that scattered darkness from these shores and across France would spread to all of Europe, in time turning enemies into friends and the pursuits of war into the pursuits of peace. Our security is still bound up together in a transatlantic alliance, with soldiers in many uniforms defending the world from terrorists at this very hour.
The grave markers here all face west, across an ageless and indifferent ocean to the country these men and women served and loved. The thoughts of America on this Memorial Day turn to them and to all their fallen comrades in arms. We think of them with lasting gratitude. We miss them with lasting love, and we pray for them. And we trust in the words of the Almighty God which are inscribed in the chapel nearby: "I give unto them eternal life, that they shall never perish."
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. at the Normandy American Cemetery. The Office of the Press Secretary also released a Spanish language transcript of these remarks. The Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day proclamation of May 21 is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.
George W. Bush, Remarks at a Memorial Day Ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer, France Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/215074