Chairman Inouye, thank you for those kind words. They mean a lot coming from a personal hero, mentor, and friend, whose life from Soldier to Senator, has epitomized the bedrock values of our national character and the quiet virtues of our island culture. It’s good to share the dais with you today. Let me acknowledge some of our other special guests
Senator Akaka and Congressman Djou—it’s good to see you both again;
Admirals Willard and Kihune, General Dave Bramlett, other fellow Flag and General Officers—thank you for your leadership and your service. Our Nation and our men and women in uniform are well served by all of you;
Consul Generals Binns and Vinokurov—thank you for honoring us with your presence. The victory that we celebrate today, is a victory in which the young men and women of many nations, yours included, did their duty for all of us. Consul General and Mrs. Kamo—thank you for attending;
State and local officials from the great state of Hawai’i;
President Michael Carr—thank you and the U.S.S. Missouri Association for inviting me to participate in today’s commemoration;
Members of the Joint Military Honor Guard, the Navy Ceremonial Band, and Chaplain Borris—thanks for your inspiring rendition of our National Anthem and the special blessing you invoked this morning;
Members of our Armed Forces—from the Greatest Generation to our latest generation—thanks for your service to the Nation;
Fellow Veterans, especially Veterans of World War II, and special acknowledgement of the men who fought on the Missouri;
Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am most honored to be here with you on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri—this magnificent battleship of the line. Like many of the old-timers here this morning, she has a distinguished battle record.
We gather to commemorate the end of the epic struggle that was World War II, 65 years ago today. It all began here on 7 December 1941, and ended here as well, on the deck of the Missouri on 2 September 1945, in the still waters of Tokyo Bay—where “Mighty Mo” served as stage for the signing of the instruments of surrender between General Douglas MacArthur and the emissaries of the Emperor of Japan.
Six-and-a-half decades have passed since the Missouri bore witness to that final act. Here amid the silent ghosts of Battleship Row, in respectful presence of the sacred U.S.S. Arizona, on this historic deck once filled with the sound and the fury of war, the guns fell silent.
The significance of this stately memorial lies not just in the strength of steel, but in the soul of a generation of ordinary Americans who came forward to serve their country in extraordinary ways: On and beneath battle-bloodied seas; in flak-filled skies; on shell-torn battlefields; and, at countless supply depots and refueling stations in between.
The U.S.S. Missouri, “Mighty Mo,” proudly preserves the history of one of the defining eras in our life as a Nation. Here we confront more than the legacy of the guarantors of the freedoms we enjoy. We find more than a reverence for those who were lost. Here we honor the spirit of men and women whose strength, and strength of purpose, realized our Nation’s most fervent hopes and vanquished our darkest fears.
Over the course of 1,365 days, the patriots of our Greatest Generation held America’s destiny, and the destiny of the world, in their hands. And they did not fail.
All across the Pacific, on a thousand islands and atolls, young Americans struggled and suffered, fought and died to conclude a victory prayed for by the peoples of many nations. Half-a-world away, across the forests and farms, and the towns and cities of Europe, the will of brothers-in-arms were hardened in the fires of adversity—from Tunisia to Anzio, from Normandy to Berlin.
By their sterling examples, the Veterans of World War II remind us that the price of freedom is the willingness to sacrifice. Belief in the rightness of our principles—“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”—supersedes even the anguish of our most grievous losses.
It has been said that the history of the world is but the biography of great men. Legends like Nimitz, Eisenhower, and Doolittle are often the prisms through which we see the varied colors and best traits of our young—and indeed, of America itself. But all great leaders know that the mightiest undertakings succeed only because of the strength and courage, determination and sacrifice of men and women whose names will never be recorded in history books or memorialized in museums—whose every-day missions, whether on the front-lines or the supply lines, demand unwavering discipline and devotion, commitment and courage.
Challenges to peace and freedom are as old as our Nation’s history, and as new as today’s headlines. We can look back across the centuries to the fiery American pamphleteer, Thomas Paine, who, with no weapon other than a quill pen, galvanized our colonial cause and ignited a revolution. He captured the spirit of his time when he wrote, “We have it in our power to begin our world over again.”
The 217,000 intrepid Soldiers of the Continental Army took him at his word and changed the course of history. One hundred and sixty-five years later, their 20th century descendents—16 million Americans strong—clashed with a phalanx of armies, air forces, and navies to defeat one of the gravest challenges to our country’s freedom since 1776. In final victory, the Veterans of World War II, like their forebears, had, again, boldly “begun our world over.”
This noble warship bears witness that the deeds of past generations forge the fate of future ones. The generation of Tarawa and Iwo Jima, Monte Cassino and the Bulge—in sheer magnitude of its larger-than-life achievements—wrote into American history the same sense of purpose and perseverance as the generation of Lexington and Concord.
In the early, dark days of our revolution, Paine had prophesized, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” Those words echo down the centuries and impart a voice that steadies and steels our national will, now as then.
The battles of almost 70 years ago were indeed “hard”-won, and witness to awe-inspiring valor, dogged determination, and an unyielding will to win. Each Veteran of that historic conflict was, and is, an affirmation of America’s deep and abiding heritage, a testament to the enduring legacy of patriots who were prepared to stand to the last man, if necessary, to defend freedom.
On this 65th anniversary of their “glorious triumph”—victory in the Pacific—I extend on behalf of President Obama and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the highest honors of a grateful Nation to our Veterans of World War II.