National WWII Memorial Dedication
May 29, 2004
Had this memorial been erected at war's end, the surviving participants of the Second World War would long ago have gathered here to remember those lost in that conflagration. Those that survived the battlefield, who aided in provisions, and who sacrificed comforts would have already dedicated this memorial and then gone on to live in a new, still imperfect world.
But as we now live in the Third Millennium, time demands that more than the fallen be remembered in this place of National Honor. Let us remember not just those who lost their lives in the war, but all Americans who were alive, conscientious, and chose to serve as best they could in the years from 1941 to 1945. It is no embellishment to say their lives were interrupted, their futures were altered, their dreams were held in stasis while every minute of their youth was burdened with fear, with loss and with uncertainty. For them, each day began with unanswerable questions as to when peace would come, when liberators would rise, if tolerance could fill the dark void left by terror or if tyrants were to rule half the world. Everyday they asked themselves "what can I do?" and then provided their own answer.
Against twin enemies who believed they were genetically, racially, theologically and institutionally superior to all others in the world, those Americans and their allies proved them not only wrong, but foolish. In a 45-month long battle against the conceit that moral superiority can be declared, those Americans across the sea and at home in the United States – many of you who have made it here today – proved that true human morality can only be demonstrated – by deed, by sacrifice and ultimately by mercy.
Lingering through the years though, is a question – asked every time we sing our National Anthem – a question which will be as relevant to our American character a century from today as it was sixty years ago.
The first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner asks not merely about our flag, but about ourselves. In time each generation is called to answer that question as it sees fit, as it must. If our nation is to last, if liberty is to be the standard for the world, if truth is to be our legacy, if tolerance is to reign over humankind – all generations will respond to that query as did those Americans whose spirit we memorialize here in granite and bronze. As demonstrated by the sacrifices made by those alive in 1941 and by those who never saw 1946 – you, our extended national family declared by your actions that, yes, our flag still flies, we do come from a land of the free and America is a home of the brave.