General P. X. Kelley, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Chairman, American Battle Monuments Commission
National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004
Good afternoon: President Bush, President Clinton, honored guests – in particular my fellow members of the greatest generation (I was a junior air raid warden in West Roxbury, Massachusetts). On behalf of the American Battle Monuments Commission – the executive agency authorized by Congress to establish a National World War II Memorial here in our nation's capital – it is my honor to welcome you to today's dedication.
Our Commission was established in 1923, shortly after World War I. Appropriately, General of the Armies John J. Pershing was our first Chairman. Our primary mission is the care of nearly 131,000 Americans who sleep silently with their comrades beneath pristine white crosses and stars of David in our 24 overseas memorial cemeteries – 14 of which are dedicated to World War II.
Each time I walk along the uniform rows of these crosses, I am reminded of a spiritual tribute to the fallen, made by a chaplain following one of the most costly battles of World War II: "Here lie officers and men together, blacks and whites together, rich men and poor…together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy."
Being entrusted by you, the American people, with this sacred mission – we do not take our responsibilities lightly. It was with this same sense of purpose that we accepted the challenge to design and construct a memorial which would reflect for evermore that World War II was the most significant event in the history of mankind. It was a conflict which involved every man, woman and child in our country. It was a conflict in which over 53 million souls departed from this planet – and it was a conflict in which over 400,000 Americans made the supreme sacrifice – but in the end it was a conflict in which our way of life prevailed. Our eternal thanks go to our greatest generation.
As World War II was the most significant event in the history of mankind, so it is that today's event is the most significant event of its kind thus far in the 21st century. Our grateful nation remembers the 16 million men and women who wore the uniform of their country, and the 144 million who manned the home front. Let us pray to our chosen God that our nation's memory of their service will never fade.
Let me now recognize some of those in attendance. On the dais today are:
- Former presidents and members of Congress
- World War II Medal of Honor recipients
- Cabinet heads and government leaders
- Members of the memorial design and construction teams; and
- Representatives of the Gold Star Wives (parenthetically, a title my own mother earned), American War Orphans, our Memorial Advisory Board, and the military services.
In the audience are:
- Families whose names resonate with the Second World War: Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower – to name but a few.
- Former and current commissioners and staff of the American Battle Monuments Commission
- Delegations from our World War II allied nations and of those who fought against us then but now stand with us
- Representatives of the veterans service organizations and those who made the memorial possible with their generous financial donations
But most importantly, our distinguished and honored guests: the thousands of World War II generation members gathered here in Washington; and the millions watching with family and friends at community gatherings or in veteran's hospitals and homes throughout the nation—all sharing in this long-overdue and most-deserved moment of tribute and remembrance.
To our greatest generation, wherever you are gathered, I extend a heartfelt and most respectful welcome to this national celebration in your honor.
It is now my pleasure to invite the distinguished news anchor and author, Tom Brokaw, to share with you his reflections on America's "greatest generation."
PRESENTATION OF THE WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL:
Mr. President, on behalf of the American Battle Monuments Commission, it is my highest honor to present to you and the people of this great nation, the National World War II Memorial. Ladies and Gentleman, our Commander in Chief, the President of the United States – George W. Bush.