Veterans Day – Nov 11, 2007

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The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Today we remember.

The veterans, the honorable servants of liberty, remember too. They remember their own time in uniform. They remember the wars – the assaults, the battles, the horrors. They remember the deployments, the separation from their families, the loss of friends. They stood ready to fight whenever the nation called. They all sacrificed, and they all served.

If you want to know what this day means to our veterans, look at their eyes during a Veterans Day flag raising ceremony, or watch them as they stand at attention as the flag passes by at a small town parade. There is a recognition in their eyes; they recognize their worth, and the part they played in keeping the flame of liberty burning. They know what being an American serviceman means – not only to us, but to the world.

Last Wednesday, on the floor of Congress where so much acrimony has filled those hallowed halls in recent years, it took a Frenchman to remind us what America means to the world.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

The men and women of my generation heard their grandparents talk about how in 1917, America saved France at a time when it had reached the final limits of its strength, which it had exhausted in the most absurd and bloodiest of wars.

The men and women of my generation heard their parents talk about how in 1944, America returned to free Europe from the horrifying tyranny that threatened to enslave it.

Fathers took their sons to see the vast cemeteries where, under thousands of white crosses so far from home, thousands of young American soldiers lay who had fallen not to defend their own freedom but the freedom of all others, not to defend their own families, their own homeland, but to defend humanity as a whole.

Fathers took their sons to the beaches where the young men of America had so heroically landed. They read them the admirable letters of farewell that those 20-year-old soldiers had written to their families before the battle to tell them: “We don’t consider ourselves heroes. We want this war to be over. But however much dread we may feel, you can count on us.” Before they landed, Eisenhower told them: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”

And as they listened to their fathers, watched movies, read history books and the letters of soldiers who died on the beaches of Normandy and Provence, as they visited the cemeteries where the star-spangled banner flies, the children of my generation understood that these young Americans, 20 years old, were true heroes to whom they owed the fact that they were free people and not slaves. France will never forget the sacrifice of your children.

To those 20-year-old heroes who gave us everything, to the families of those who never returned, to the children who mourned fathers they barely got a chance to know, I want to express France’s eternal gratitude.

On behalf of my generation, which did not experience war but knows how much it owes to their courage and their sacrifice; on behalf of our children, who must never forget; to all the veterans who are here today and, notably the seven I had the honor to decorate yesterday evening, one of whom, Senator Inouye, belongs to your Congress, I want to express the deep, sincere gratitude of the French people. I want to tell you that whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France. I think of them and I am sad, as one is sad to lose a member of one’s family.” (Nicolas Sarkozy before a joint meeting of Congress, Nov 7, 2007 – click here for the complete text)

Today, on November 11th, we remember.

Fly your flags proudly. Think of our troops who are serving far from home. Remember those who are recovering from wounds in military and VA hospitals around the country. Honor those who fell. And never forget what they have all done – and are still doing – for us. To our veterans around the world, thank you. Thank you for serving so honorably. Thank you for your sacrifice. We can never express our gratitude sufficiently, really, but we’ll keep trying. And we’ll always remember.

Happy Veterans Day to you all.

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