We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in
battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 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 history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France.
The air is soft, but 40 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.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers -- the edge of the cliffs
shooting down at them with machineguns 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 2 days of fighting, only 90 could
still bear arms.
Behind me 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 there.
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 signed 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. Do 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 the bullets
into the ground around him.
Lord Lovat 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 from the bloody fighting
on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.
There was 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 rollcall of honor with names that spoke
of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg 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.
Forty summers 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.
The Americans 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 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and
praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.
Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard 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.''
These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped
the unity of the Allies.
When the 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 peace.
In spite 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 40 years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand
on this continent. Today, as 40 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.
It's fitting 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 some day 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.
We are bound 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.
Here, in 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 thee.''
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne
by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived
Thank you very much, and God bless you all.
President Ronald Reagan - June 6, 1984