On April 26, the Dixie Air Wing in Peachtree City hosted World War II Heritage Days, an annual event commemorating World War II and honoring its veterans. I was honored to be asked to give the remarks during the opening ceremony. The ceremony was attended by over 80 WWII veterans and their families, along with many citizens from our area. It was a wonderfully attended celebration and it is a credit to our community to host such an event. With Memorial Day coming up next Monday, I thought it appropriate to submit the text of the speech I delivered thanking and honoring this incredibly brave generation of veterans for their sacrifice.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly an honor to speak to you this morning. Since being invited to give these remarks I have been wrestling with what to say. It is a difficult task I’ve been given. What can I say to you? I who never served? To you, who did? I have known only the fruits of your sacrifice; I have lived only in safety and comfort, which you bought so dearly. What can I say to you, you who served in uniform and saved the world?
That's right. I believe the veterans, the heroes, of World War II did nothing less than save our world. All military service is noble, and all wartime service has a special nobility beyond anything I will ever likely achieve. But the men who scaled the cliffs at Normandy, who flew the missions over Hitler's Fortress Europe with little hope of survival, and who took the Pacific back from Imperial Japan island by island -- these can lay claim to a special distinction. They saved us all. Never have the stakes been higher. Never has the call to duty, to honor, to valor, been answered more resoundingly.
I have always relished hearing the stories of the battles that were fought and the great victories that were won in Europe and the Pacific. Just the other day, in my office, a man told my law partner his personal story of how he ran away from home at the age of 14, enlisted in the Army, and flew more than two dozen missions over Europe as a belly gunner in a B-17. When his mother eventually discovered his true whereabouts, she ratted him out. He received a dishonorable discharge, which was rescinded several years later and changed to an honorable discharge. And what did he do when his discharge was changed to honorable? He reenlisted and went on to fly missions over Korea. Just an incredible story from an incredible person. However, what is truly incredible is that this is but one example of millions in a generation that sacrificed and risked everything to save the free world.
I've heard these stories my whole life, for my family was touched by World War II. My great grandfather, Russell West, was killed during the Battle of the Bulge and lies buried in France. Both of my grandfathers served in combat -- one in the navy in the Pacific and the other as a pilot who flew numerous missions over North Africa and Europe.
Both my grandmother and grandfather that told me stories of those fateful days during my youth have passed. It is a scary thought to me that one day, all across our great nation, there will be only silence where there was once the sound of grandfathers, like mine, telling children, like me, upon their knee the stories of those great victories. This realization gives me a deep sense of sadness, and a powerful appreciation for the need to treasure our relationships while we can.
You, having left so many of your fallen brothers on a far away shore, understand this only too well. Though it has been so long since you have seen their faces -- which stay frozen in youth even now all these long years later -- you still feel bound to them, as if no time had passed at all. They live on forever in your hearts, as all of those who pass will in ours.
Douglas MacArthur said that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away." As the father of two children, I can promise you that the story of the Greatest Generation will never be allowed to fade from their memories, or from their children's. The story will be told and retold, and will endure long after we are all gone from the earth. How dare we ever forget the unforgettable? We can not and we must not and we will not.
It is not only in our memories that your works are commemorated. The brave and selfless acts of our uniformed men and women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere do their predecessors proud. Last month, when Michael Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades, I could not help but think of those who went before him, who committed similar acts of extraordinary valor, who fought for the same flag, and who made the same sacrifice, in the words of Lincoln, “upon the alter of freedom.” When such men are struck down in the flower of their youth, I take comfort in knowing that God is just, and that the scales will be made even; though we in this fallen world cannot see how.
Ladies and gentlemen, all men in their hearts long to do something great. Some of us still await our chance. Until then, we have to make due with moments like these, when we can be near greatness. World War II was one of the most significant events in the history of mankind. When it mattered most, this generation of Americans showed the best qualities our country is all about. This group of men and women gave some of the best years of their lives to the most important mission this country has ever accepted. And for that I thank you -- America thanks you -- and generations not yet born, in every corner of the globe -- thank you for your service, and your greatness. And let us pray that such exertions as you endured will never be necessary again.
Thank you again for this incredible opportunity.