Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of D-Day
Delivered by President Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984 Pointe
Du Hoc, Normandy, France
to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle
to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much
of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen,
Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation.
Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here,
in Normandy, the rescue began. Here, the Allies stood and fought
against tyranny, in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human
on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France.
The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was
dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled
with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn,
on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off
the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.
Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the
invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out
the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest
of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches
to stop the Allied advance.
looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs,
shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades.
And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders
over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up.
When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope
was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again.
They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by
one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing
the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize
back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came
here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear
is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust
into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put
them here. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the
men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free
a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen,
I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem.
You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the
vivid air singed with your honor."
I think I
know what you may be thinking right now -- thinking "we were
just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day."
Well, everyone was. You remember the story of Bill Millin of the
51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned
down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they
heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming.
Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his
bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of
bullets into the ground around him.
was with him -- Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when
he got to the bridge, "Sorry, I'm a few minutes late,"
as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just
come form the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his
men had just taken.
the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between
the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and
the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen
the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them
there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno
Beach, they never looked back.
All of these
men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of
a pride as bright as the colors they bore; The Royal Winniped
Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the
Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armored divisions, the
forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's "Matchbox Fleet,"
and you, the American Rangers.
have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young
the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than
boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked
everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to
put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives
to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies
that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer.
It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.
The men of
Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith
that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would
grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the
deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there
is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation
and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate,
not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your
cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew
that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying
for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply
honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved
liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew
the people of your countries were behind you.
who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading
through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their
hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they
were filling the churches at 4:00 am., in Kansas they were kneeling
on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing
the Liberty Bell.
else helped the men of D-day; their rock-hard belief that Providence
would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here;
that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before
the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops
to kneel with him in prayer, he told them: Do not bow your heads,
but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're
about to do. Also, that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his
cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua:
"I will not fail thee nor forsake thee."
the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped
the unity of the Allies.
war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to
be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above
all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and
daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith,
belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt
a new Europe together. There was first a great reconciliation
among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so
greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall
Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall
Plan led to the Atlantic alliance -- a great alliance that serves
to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for
of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the
end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries
were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own
time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet
troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave
when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding,
almost forty years after the war. Because of this, allied forces
still stand on this continent. Today, as forty years ago, our
armies are here for only one purpose: to protect and defend democracy.
The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards
where our heroes rest.
We in America
have learned bitter lessons from two world wars. It is better
to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter
across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost.
We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an
acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist
intent. But we try always to be prepared for peace, prepared to
deter aggression, prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms,
and yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation.
In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than
a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen
the risks of war, now and forever.
to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian
people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price
that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I
tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want
war. We want to wipe from the face of the earth the terrible weapons
that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to
seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union
that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire
and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest.
There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our
hope into action.
We will pray
forever that someday that changing will come. But for now, particularly
today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each
other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.
today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions,
and beliefs. We're bound by reality. The strength of America's
allies is vital to the United States, and the American security
guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe's democracies.
We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our
hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.
this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to
our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what
they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which
Matthew Ridgway listened: "I will not fail thee nor forsake
by their courage, heartened by their valor and borne by their
memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they
lived and died.
very much, and God bless you all.