Memorial Day Speech 2004 honoring those in Haverhill who served in World War 2
Welcome—it is heartening to see so many Haverhill people gathered to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
The original Memorial Day was to celebrate the battle of Gettysburg in the civil war—still, to this day, one of the bloodiest battles in American history.
Over the decades, Memorial Day has come to be a tribute to all those who served in all wars.
Today, as we prepare to celebrate the 60 th anniversary of D day, the invasion of Normandy, and as we celebrate the unveiling of the World War II memorial in Washington DC, it is a fitting day to particularly honor all those who went off to fight for freedom in World War II.
It is hard for us today to imagine December 7 th 1941. On December 7 th, our country, which we thought then was protected by two oceans, was attacked at Pearl Harbor. It wasn’t just our country that was attacked; it was the concepts of freedom and democracy everywhere.
It is hard to imagine that only 63 year’s ago, it looked to many as if democracy was going to be defeated and that a horrible new form of government, fascism, would be the dominant force in the world for future. It is hard to imagine, but in 1941, the German fascists and their Japanese allies had conquered China, and Indonesia and much of the far east, and in the other side of the world had conquered France, and Belgium and Poland, had driven England back to its island, had conquered most of Europe and was on the verge of conquering the Soviet Union. On December 7 th, a Sunday, it appeared to some that that the light of democracy and freedom was about to go out on most of the world.
Starting the next day, December 8 th, millions of young men and women in America said that they would not allow that to happen. Young men everywhere in America rushed to see how they could serve their country in time of need. In Haverhill, hundreds of young men and women left high school and lined up outside the post office to enlist, to fight for their country and to fight for freedom.
Fight they did. Haverhill men and women served us in far east, fighting island by island to recapture the lands taken the Japanese –at places like Iowo Jima, Okinawa, Guadalcanal—where my uncle Frank served, in great Naval battles like the battle of Midway, and inch by inch, our forces retook lands captured by the Japanese and restored freedom.
In Europe, our forces fought in Italy and parts of Africa, and then in the greatest amphibious invasion in history, on D Day, liberated first France and then Germany itself.
In World War II our land was completely united—and those on the home front united to buy war bonds, to save their scrap metal and to produce the armaments and weapons that would arm the greatest and best equipped armed services the world had seen thus far. At the start of the war, our nation, still recovering from the great depression, had an 11% unemployment rate. By the time the war was going, the unemployment rate was close to zero, as virtually 100% of our country joined together to fight for democracy and freedom.
No one can imagine what our soldiers went through. Our soldiers in the Far East sometimes spent months without proper rations, our soldiers in Europe and those who landed at D-day never knew if this day would be their last, our sailors who were on ships, as Japanese kamikaze pilots attacked never knew if they would last the hour. Many of our soldiers and sailors did not return.
But they persevered and fought on. In 1945, our soldiers, sailors, Marine and airmen, changed the history of the world, secured freedom and democracy and sent Nazism and fascism to defeat. It is fitting that 61 years later, no one today talks of bringing back Nazism or fascism, and, indeed, writers like the Japanese American Francis Fukuyama say that Democracy scored a final victory in World War Ii it is, they claim the end of history.
These soldiers and sailors did not fight for the beautiful land that surrounds us, although that is part of it. They did not fight to keep their land free from foreign invaders, although that was part of it. They fought for freedom and democracy.
They fought for all of us to have the rights that we all too often take for granted—the right to dissent, the right to disagree, the right to be of a different political party or a different religion, the right to be wrong, the right to dissent and our most important and most precious freedom, a freedom that we all too often take for granted and never use, the right to vote.
On this Memorial Day, 2004, let us pause for a moment to remember those who did not come back, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
At let us join together to thank those who did come back, and who were able to make it here today, could I ask all World War II veterans to raise your hands. Let us join together to welcome them and thank them for their service.
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