OTD in History… June 20, 1963, President Kennedy establishes direct hotline to the Soviet Union

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HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

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OTD in History… June 20, 1963, President Kennedy establishes direct hotline to the Soviet Union

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history, June 20, 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement creating a direct hotline between the two countries, which President John F. Kennedy had negotiated after the slow exchange of messages during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis put the countries at the precipice of nuclear war. The hotline still exists between the United States and Russia; however, the technology has been updated three times since the agreement was signed in 1963.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous October 16–28, 1962, the US and Soviet Union had a confrontation over each other’s nuclear weapons. The Americans had weapons stored in Italy and Turkey and the Soviets were planning to transport nuclear weapons to Cuba, in order to deter another American invasion like the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. After a U-2 spy plane discovered the missile facilities in Cuba, President Kennedy ordered a blockade to deter any further ballistic missiles reaching Cuba and demanding the Soviets dismantle those already in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union. The negotiations between the two nations were long and tense. It took 12 hours for the Kennedy Administration to “receive and decode” Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev’s 3,000-word settlement. The administration drafted a reply and in the interim, the Soviets sent another message demanding the US to remove their missiles in Turkey.

Quicker communications between the US and Russia might have resolved the crisis more swiftly and with less threat of a nuclear war. The nations decided to establish a “hotline” for faster and direct communications to avert further crises. In June 1963, the United States and the Soviet Union signed hotline agreement formally called the “Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Link.” The agreement outlined, “For use in time of emergency the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have agreed to establish as soon as technically feasible a direct communications link between the two Governments.”

On June 20, President Kennedy released a statement about the hotline, saying, “This age of fast-moving events requires quick, dependable communications for use in time of emergency…. both Governments have taken a first step to help reduce the risk of war occurring by accident or miscalculation. This agreement on a communications link is a limited but practical step forward in arms control and disarmament.” August 30, 1963, was the first time the system was used. The phrase the US sent was “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890,” because it utilized the entire alphabet and numerals.

The hotline was not a “red telephone” but encrypted messages sent through telegraph wires and using teletype machines. The system consisted of “two terminal points with teletype equipment, a full-time duplex wire telegraph circuit and a full-time radiotelegraph circuit.” Kennedy would send a telephone message to the Pentagon, where they would encrypt the message and then send it through a transmitter. The US first used the hotline to notify the Soviet of Kennedy’s assassination. President Lyndon Johnson, however, was the first president to use the hotline. In 1967, he responded then-Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin during the Six Day War in the Middle East. Johnson warned the Soviet leader who was supporting the Arab nations that he was considering sending the Air Force to aid Israel.

In 1984, the hotline changed over to fax machines, while since 2008 it has been through secure emails on a computer network. The system has worked, and never has the two countries ever been at the precipice of nuclear war as they had been in 1962. In 2010, President Barack Obama joked that social media was replacing the hotline, “We may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long.” Recently American relations with Russia have turned frosty under Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the US should not consider retiring those phones just yet.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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OTD in History… June 12, 1987, President Reagan calls on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

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OTD in History… June 12, 1987, President Reagan calls on Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech at the Brandenburg Gate and called upon the Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” in what became known as Berlin Wall Speech. The speech challenged Gorbachev but was controversial in Berlin and among his speech writing team. Reagan had made two previous references to the Berlin Wall in 1982 and 1986, but this was the boldest of his references. The speech is one of Reagan’s most famous anti-Communist speeches and a symbol of the start of ending the Cold War.

Berliner’s protested Reagan’s arrival in West Germany, with 50,000 opposing his visit to the country. Earlier most of his speechwriters opposed the controversial line, concerned that it might heighten tensions with the Soviet Union, however, junior speechwriter Peter Robinson researched the mood in Germany and believed they wanted the wall down. Soviets erected the Berlin Wall in 1961 to prevent East Berliners in the Soviet bloc escaping to the Western-controlled half of the city.

In a May 18, meeting with his speechwriters, the line had fierce opposition from White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker and National Security Advisor Colin Powell, while Reagan was noted as saying, the speech was a “good solid draft” and said about the line, “I think we’ll leave it in.” Robinson claims to have gotten his inspiration from Ingeborg Elz of West Berlin at a dinner, who had said, “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of Glasnost and perestroika he can prove it by getting rid of this wall.” Chief speechwriter Anthony Dolan counters Robinson’s recollection and insists Reagan thought of the line, not Robinson.

Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan arrived in West Berlin on June 12, to protests. They first visited the Reichstag, where they stood on the gallery observing the wall, before heading to the Brandenburg Gate for the speech at 2 p.m. Reagan chose the gate because both President John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter delivered speeches in the same spot. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963 was the better-known coming just months after the wall was erected and is considered “one of Kennedy’s best.”

Reagan’s speech “emphasiz[ed] freedom and reunification,” and challenged Gorbachev to show good faith in negotiations and challenged him to get rid of the wall, calling on him to do so twice in the speech.

The first time with the famous line:

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

The second, Reagan stated he foresees the inevitability of the wall falling:

“As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, ‘This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.’ Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

The speech’s focus, however, was to get Gorbachev at the negotiating table to reduce nuclear arms, particularly SS-20 weapons. As Reagan brought up, saying, “Not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

The speech was not given the weight at the time as it does in historical context. When the wall fell on November 9, 1989, and Berlin reunified on October 3, 1990, Reagan’s call and foreshadowing had greater significance. Some journalists have been critical of the speech’s impact, however, New York Times best-selling author James Mann, believes it did have an impact on ending the Cold War. Mann argued in his 2007 New York Times article “Tear Down That Myth,” Reagan “wasn’t trying to land a knockout blow on the Soviet regime, nor was he engaging in mere political theater. He was instead doing something else on that damp day in Berlin… — he was helping to set the terms for the end of the cold war.”

READ MORE

Matlock, Jack F. Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. New York: Random House, 2004.

Ratnesar, Romesh. Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech That Ended the Cold War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Remarks on East-West Relations at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin
June 12, 1987

Thank you very much. Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and gentlemen:

Twenty four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the city hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer, Paul Lincke, understood something about American Presidents. You see, like so many Presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: “Ich hab noch einen koffer in Berlin.” [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the American people. To those listening in East Berlin, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guardtowers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said: “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.” Today I say: As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State–as you’ve been told–George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the Western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: “The Marshall plan is helping here to strengthen the free world.” A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium–virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty–that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany-busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of park land. Where a city’s culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there’s abundance–food, clothing, automobiles-the wonderful goods of the Ku’damm. From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on Earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But, my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn’t count on Berliner herz, Berliner humor, ja, und Berliner schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner schnauze.] [Laughter]

In the 1950’s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind-too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control. Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent–and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides. Beginning 10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat, hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of-striking every capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a counterdeployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution; namely, the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its counterdeployment, there were difficult days–days of protests like those during my 1982 visit to this city–and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then–I invite those who protest today–to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative-research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place–a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete. Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safer, freer world.

And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world. To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other issues that call for international cooperation. There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East. Our French and British friends, I’m certain, will do the same. And it’s my hope that an authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western sectors.

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you many have noted that the Republic of Korea–South Korea–has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West?

In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You’ve done so in spite of threats–the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there’s a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there’s something deeper, something that involves Berlin’s whole look and feel and way of life–not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love–love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the Sun strikes that sphere–that sphere that towers over all Berlin–the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner, “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I’ve been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they’re doing again.
Thank you and God bless you all.

Full Text Obama Presidency June 6, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day — Omaha Beach, Normandy

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day — Omaha Beach, Normandy

Source: WH, 6-6-14

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Omaha Beach
Normandy, France

11:16 A.M. CET

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  President Hollande; to the people of France; friends; the family; our veterans:

If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world.

Captains paced their decks.  Pilots tapped their gauges.  Commanders pored over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong — the winds, the tides, the element of surprise — and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.

Fresh-faced GIs rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and re-checked their equipment. “God,” asked one, “give me guts.”  And in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways; gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky; giant screws began to turn on an armada that looked like more ships than sea.  And more than 150,000 souls set off towards this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but rather the course of human history.

President Hollande, distinguished guests, I’m honored to return here today to pay tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied every danger — among them, our veterans of D-Day.  And, gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today.  (Applause.)

Just last week, I received a letter from a French citizen.  “Dear Mr. President, and the American people,” he wrote, “[we are] honored to welcome you… to thank you again for all the pain and efforts of [the] American people and others in our common struggle for freedom.”

Today, we say the same to the people of France.  Thank you, especially, for the generosity that you’ve shown the Americans who’ve come here over the generations — to these beaches, and to this sacred place of rest for 9,387 Americans.  At the end of the war, when our ships set off for America, filled with our fallen, tens of thousands of liberated Europeans turned out to say farewell, and they pledged to take care of the more than 60,000 Americans who would remain in cemeteries on this continent.  In the words of one man, we will take care of the fallen “as if their tombs were our children’s.”  And the people of France, you have kept your word like the true friends you are.  We are forever grateful.  (Applause.)

Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are.  We don’t just honor sacrifice, as grateful as the world is.  We come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril.  We come to tell the story of the men and women who did it so that it remains seared into the memory of a future world.

We tell this story for the old soldiers who pull themselves a little straighter today to salute brothers who never made it home.  We tell the story for the daughter who clutches a faded photo of her father, forever young; for the child who runs his fingers over colorful ribbons he knows signify something of great consequence, even if he doesn’t yet fully understand why.  We tell this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the boys from America reached Omaha Beach.

By daybreak, blood soaked the water, bombs broke the sky.  Thousands of paratroopers had dropped into the wrong landing sites; thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand.  Entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes.  “Hell’s Beach” had earned its name.

By 8:30 a.m., General Omar Bradley expected our troops to be a mile inland.  “Six hours after the landings,” he wrote, “we held only ten yards of beach.”  In this age of instant commentary, the invasion would have swiftly and roundly been declared, as it was by one officer, “a debacle.”

But such a race to judgment would not have taken into account the courage of free men.  “Success may not come with rushing speed,” President Roosevelt would say that night, “but we shall return again and again.”  And paratroopers fought through the countryside to find one another.  Rangers pulled themselves over those cliffs to silence Nazi guns.  To the west, Americans took Utah Beach with relative ease.  To the east, the British tore through the coast, fueled by the fury of five years of bombs over London and a solemn vow to “fight them on the beaches.”  The Canadians, whose shores had not been touched by war, drove far into France.  And here, at Omaha, troops who finally made it to the seawall used it as shelter — where a general barked, “If you’re Rangers… lead the way!”

By the end of that longest day, this beach had been fought, lost, refought, and won — a piece of Europe once again liberated and free.  Hitler’s Wall was breached, letting loose Patton’s Army to pour into France.  Within a week, the world’s bloodiest beach had become the world’s busiest port.  Within a month, one million Allied troops thundered through Normandy into Europe, and as our armies marched across the continent, one pilot said it looked “as if the very crust of the Earth had shaken loose.”  The Arc de Triomphe lit up for the first time in years, and Paris was punctuated by shouts of “Vive la France!” and “Vive les États-Unis!”  (Applause.)

Of course, even as we gather here at Normandy, we remember that freedom’s victory was also made possible by so many others who wore America’s uniform.  Two years before he commanded armies, Eisenhower’s troops sliced through North Africa.  Three times before D-Day, our GIs stormed the beaches at Sicily, Salerno, Anzio.  Divisions like the Fighting 36th brawled their way through Italy, fighting through the mud for months, marching through towns past waving children before opening the gates to Rome.  As the “dogfaces” marched to victory in Europe, the Devil Dogs — the Marines — clawed their way from island to island in the Pacific, in some of the war’s fiercest fighting.  And back home, an army of women — including my grandmother — rolled up their sleeves to help build a mighty arsenal of democracy.

But it was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom.  What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met?

We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way.  But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it.  And when the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory — we helped Europe rebuild.  We claimed no land other than the earth where we buried those who gave their lives under our flag and where we station those who still serve under it.  But America’s claim — our commitment — to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity.

Omaha — Normandy — this was democracy’s beachhead.  And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity.  We worked to turn old adversaries into new allies.  We built new prosperity.  We stood once more with the people of this continent through a long twilight struggle until finally a wall tumbled down, and an Iron Curtain, too.  And from Western Europe to East, from South America to Southeast Asia — 70 years of democratic movement spread.  And nations that once knew only the blinders of fear began to taste the blessings of freedom.

None of that would have happened without the men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they’d never met and ideals they couldn’t live without.

None of it would have happened without the troops President Roosevelt called “the life-blood of America… the hope of the world.”

They left home barely more than boys and returned home heroes.  But to their great credit, that is not how this generation carried itself.  After the war, some put away their medals, were quiet about their service, moved on.  Some, carrying shrapnel and scars, found that moving on was much harder.  Many, like my grandfather, who served in Patton’s Army, lived a quiet life, trading one uniform and set of responsibilities for another — as a teacher, or a salesman, or a doctor, or an engineer, a dad, a grandpa.

Our country made sure millions of them earned a college education, opening up opportunity on an unprecedented scale.  And they married those sweethearts and bought new homes and raised families and built businesses, lifting up the greatest middle class the world has ever known.  And through it all, they were inspired, I suspect, by memories of their fallen brothers — memories that drove them to live their lives each day as best they possibly could.

Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men.  Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men.

Think of Wilson Colwell, who was told he couldn’t pilot a plane without a high school degree, so he decided to jump out of a plane instead.  And he did, here on D-Day, with the 101st Airborne when he was just 16 years old.

Think of Harry Kulkowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants, who fudged his age at enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight.  And don’t worry, Harry, the statute of limitations has expired.  (Laughter.)  Harry came ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day.  And now that he’s come back, we said he could have anything he wants for lunch today — he helped liberate this coast, after all.  But he said a hamburger would do fine.  (Laughter.)  What’s more American than that?

Think of “Rock” Merritt, who saw a recruitment poster asking him if he was man enough to be a paratrooper — so he signed up on the spot.  And that decision landed him here on D-Day with the 508th regiment, a unit that would suffer heavy casualties.  And 70 years later, it’s said that all across Fort Bragg, they know Rock — not just for his exploits on D-Day, or his 35 years in the Army, but because 91-year-old Rock Merritt still spends his time speaking to the young men and women of today’s Army and still bleeds “O.D. Green” for his 82nd Airborne.

Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible — stop and think of these men.

Wilson and Harry and Rock, they are here today, and although I know we already gave them a rousing round of applause, along with all our veterans of D-Day — if you can stand, please stand; if not, please raise your hand.  Let us recognize your service once more.  (Applause.)  These men waged war so that we might know peace.  They sacrificed so that we might be free.  They fought in hopes of a day when we’d no longer need to fight.  We are grateful to them.  (Applause.)

And, gentlemen, I want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands.  For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, a new generation — our men and women of war — have chosen to do their part as well.

Rock, I want you to know that Staff Sergeant Melvin Cedillo-Martin, who’s here today, is following in your footsteps.  He just had to become an American first — because Melvin was born in Honduras, moved to the United States, joined the Army.  After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne.  And Sunday, he’ll parachute into Normandy.  (Applause.)  “I became part of a family of real American heroes,” he said.  “The Paratroopers of the 82nd.”

Wilson, you should know that Specialist Jannise Rodriguez joined the Army not even two years ago, was assigned to the 101st Airborne, and just last month earned the title of the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault Soldier of the Year.  And that’s inspiring but not surprising, when the women of today’s military have taken on responsibilities, including combat, like never before.  (Applause.)

I want each of you to know that their commitment to their fellow servicemembers and veterans endures.  Sergeant First Class Brian Hawthorne’s grandfather served under General Patton and General MacArthur.  Brian himself served two tours in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star in Baghdad for saving the life of his best friend, and today, he and his wife use their experience to help other veterans and military families navigate theirs.  And Brian is here in Normandy to participate in Sunday’s jump, and here, just yesterday, he reenlisted in the Army Reserve.

And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of servicemembers — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.

Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg has served ten.  And I’ve told Cory’s incredible story before, most recently when he sat with my wife, Michelle, at the State of the Union address.  It was here, at Omaha Beach, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, where I first met Cory and his fellow Army Rangers, right after they made their own jump into Normandy.  The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, unable to speak or walk after an IED nearly killed him in Afghanistan.  But over the past five years, Cory has grown stronger, learning to speak again and stand again and walk again.  And earlier this year, he jumped out of a plane again.  The first words Cory said to me after his accident echoed those words first shouted all those years ago on this beach:  “Rangers lead the way.”  (Applause.)

So Cory has come back today, along with Melvin and Jannise and Brian, and many of their fellow active-duty servicemembers.  We thank them for their service.  They are a reminder that the tradition represented by these gentlemen continues.

We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.

And as today’s wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform, and they, too, will build families and lives of their own.  They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in commerce, in industry, and perhaps politics — the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time.  And, God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped to keep free.  And someday, future generations, whether 70 or 700 years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.  (Applause.)

May God bless our veterans and all who served with them, including those who rest here in eternal peace.  And may God bless all who serve today for the peace and security of the world.  May God bless the people of France.  And may God bless our United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:43 A.M. CET

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