On May 8, 1945, the most destructive war in history was brought to an end in Europe. Victory came at a terrible price. Tens of millions had lost their lives; entire nations lay in ruins. But the allies were determined not to let Hitler’s Third Reich, with its ideology of subjugation, humiliation, and extermination, stand. Good people could not remain idle and let evil prevail on the continent of Europe. The allies were prepared to make whatever sacrifices needed to keep the torch of freedom burning brightly in these lands, where the United States has always had so many historical ties.
Americans concluded that we would not remain neutral witnesses to the savagery that stalked this continent. And so, as allies, we acted. We joined together, and we sent our sons to fight.
President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “The history of free men is never really written by chance, but by choice—their choice.” Today, we gather to remember and honor the choices of those free men who wrote this bright chapter of our shared history—and these young were our deliverers from evil. They lie here, plucked at the peak of bloom, forever young, forever brave, forever remembered for their sacrifice—because the altar of freedom sometimes demands such homage to assure the defeat of evil and the preservation of liberty for all who cherish peace.
Here, in eternal repose, lie 5,323 Americans whose lives were given to free Europe from the shackles of tyranny. They came from small towns and big cities, from the industrial North and the agricultural South, from the deserts of the Southwest and the forests of the Northwest, from islands in the Pacific and the frozen tundra of Alaska.
They prevailed in field and forest across France and Belgium and Luxembourg. Most were lost in the Ardennes—the Battle of the Bulge—that last, desperate “throw of the dice” by a wounded but still dangerous enemy.
These young were volunteers and draftees. Over 3,000 were airmen; 792 are known only to God; the names of another 462, whose remains were never recovered, are carved on the granite walls within the memorial; 22 now lie in eternal rest, side by side with brothers with whom they once shared the joys and rivalries of childhood.
We also honor the bonds of an alliance and friendships that were born amidst crisis and continue today to safeguard the liberty of freedom-loving peoples everywhere. We extend our deepest thanks to the people of Belgium and to our other allies—who stood with us 65 years ago and stand with us still—for honoring the memory of our fallen sons, whose graves you care for as though they were your own.
Let me close with the words of the poem “For the Fallen” that are often recited at Memorial Day ceremonies in the United States:
“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.”
May God bless all who bore the risks, who gave so selflessly, and who triumphed so magnificently to save Europe and the world for all of us who are here today.
On behalf of President Obama, America’s Veterans of all generations, and the people of the United States: Thank you.