Kaptur Delivers Memorial Day Keynote at National WWII Memorial

June 3, 2019
Press Release
Livestream Available Here

Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), joined the Friends of the National World War II Memorial (Friends) and the National Park Service (NPS) to pay tribute to all Americans who have sacrificed their lives in uniform. The Memorial Day Observance took place at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. and commemorated the 15th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication.

 

The ceremony featured a keynote address by Rep. Kaptur, whose legislation in 1987 was the catalyst for what is now the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Rep. Kaptur reintroduced authorizing legislation again in 1989, 1991, and finally in 1993, when it was passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. 

 

Rep. Kaptur Keynote Speech as Prepared for Delivery:

Greetings on this glorious Memorial Day morning - in this year of 2019. 

 

As a free people — let us unite today to revere, to remember, and to render tribute to the millions of our fellow citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for an ideal... the ideal of liberty for all people... for all of us... and for our progeny.

 

Now, liberty and freedom hold distinctly different meanings. Freedom is the condition of being free, not under the control of another. But liberty is the deeper condition of having been freed from an oppression — a dictatorial regime, or starvation, or poverty, or disease, or forced evacuation, or war. Those who have been liberated have overcome some form of human debasement and degradation. America’s very being was created to liberate people. 

 

Today, most of our citizenry has been born into freedom. Historically, we are the undeserving, intergenerational benefactors of heroic selflessness. Surely, history will ask us and each succeeding generation: what have we done for liberty to measure up to the nobility of those who gave us our freedom?

 

Since America’s founding, over 1.3 million Americans have sacrificed their lives in service to our nation. Another 1.5 million have been wounded. These are overwhelming figures to contemplate. We bow low before them. Memorial Day honors them.

 

We gather at this national World War II Memorial located along sacred space -- our nation’s Mall of Democracy. Here our grateful nation assembles to pay homage —- to all Americans throughout our history who faced liberty’s enemies and sacrificed their mortal beings, rendering their substance, so we might live in a free nation.

 

This Memorial particularly honors the 20th century’s generation of Americans whose overwhelming genius and valor achieved the profound victory of liberty over tyranny for our modern world.

 

Since its dedication in 2004, over 65 million visitors have journeyed here to honor and bear witness to their vast courage. This outpouring of affection is a deserved tribute. Yes, those American men and women we honor here set forth across the world’s oceans, or served on our home front, in total war mobilization to defend liberty and its inherent truths -- that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the face of profound evil, they prevailed.... for us.... and for generations to come.

 

In the immortal words of great Army General George Marshall “Before the sun sets, our Flag will be recognized throughout our world as a symbol of freedom... and of overwhelming force.”  His prediction came true as America emerged from the ruins of World War II, during which upwards of 80 million persons had been killed — the most costly war in world history.

 

The US then, reluctantly but necessarily, assumed the mantle as leader of the free world. 

 

Following the bloodiest of wars in human history on the Atlantic and Pacific fronts, our nation – though war-weary – embarked on the post-war rebuilding of nations leveled by conflict, across Europe, in Japan and the Pacific. The idealistic goal was to create a set of robust alliances so strong and vital, liberty could prevail absent of war.

 

Across Europe, this constellation of free nations anchored by NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well bolstered by the Marshall Plan and the United Nations – set in place the foundation for the post-war free world bequeathed to us.

 

Within four decades, in 1989, due to this peaceful Allied commitment, the last remaining tyranny in Europe - the Communist-led Soviet Union - collapsed of its own decay. The vast region it had encompassed entered an era of free fall, political upheaval, and corruption that continues today. This disarray requires the steadfast attention of those who understand the price of freedom and the precious alliances necessary to protect it.

 

The location of this Memorial bears vast significance for our nation. It lies at the very heart of our nation’s capital between the Washington monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The Washington Monument anchors the Mall’s eastern flank representing our first President George Washington, and America’s 18th century Revolution to establish liberty, casting off foreign domination on this continent.

 

The Lincoln Memorial to the west represents President Abraham Lincoln and our nation’s 19th century bitter Civil War to determine who would be free in our fledgling democracy. Ultimately our Union was preserved and those previously enslaved were liberated.

 

Then centered between those monuments, in this gracious space, rests the World War II Memorial. It is a lasting tribute to the 20th century’s most noteworthy achievement by America’s most unselfish generation – their hard-fought victory of liberty over tyranny. This memorial bears no individual’s name. Rather, it commemorates the sacred victory of a generation that preserved and united the free world. Importantly, from the ruins of that war, they ingeniously created new global institutions to carry liberty forward in a fractured world. And yes, the price of that peace has been extraordinary.

 

400,000 Americans — whose remains are scattered across our world — died for our nation during World War II. Each of the 4080 gold stars here on the Wall of Heroes represents 100 fallen Americans who gave what Lincoln had termed “their last full measure of devotion.” They did this not just for their freedom, nor the freedom of their fellow countrymen, as their forefathers did. They did it to prove to the world that liberty belongs to everyone.

 

Just across the Potomac River, more than 400,000 more of America’s patriotic sons and daughters are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. They are service members from every war in which the United States has ever fought. When you walk the silent footpaths of Arlington or hear the somber sound of Taps as the wind rustles in the trees, and witness row after row of white headstones, think: that equals how many Americans also paid with their lives in World War II, so that the world could be free of Nazism and imperialism.

  

The idea for the World War II Memorial was born in Ohio. It was an Ohio WWII veteran named Roger Durbin who sought out his Member of Congress to suggest the idea. It was another Ohioan that created the idea of Honor Flight, which has flown over 200,000 veterans to Washington to visit the memorials of their respective conflicts, at no cost to the veteran. 

 

This Memorial has become one of the most frequented on the national mall, welcoming over 65 million visitors from its opening in 2004.

 

It stands as a guardian to the memory of the Greatest Generation.  Their legacy will live on. The Memorial was built to ensure that future generations, who might never have had the opportunity to meet firsthand the members of the Greatest Generation, may know their sacrifice. May this Memorial act as a lasting symbol throughout the ages that there are ideals worth protecting.

 

In every century, including the current one, the very idea of America has been challenged--from its formation in the 18th century, borne out of Revolution against colonial rule, to the preservation of our Union in the 19th century following our bloody Civil War resulting in the defeat of human slavery, to our rise in the 20th century as leader of the free nations following the defeat of tyranny. Now in this 21st-century – when I had hoped for an era of peace -- 9/11 occurred.  Instead our nation has entered into the most protracted wars in US history, largely in oil-rich desert regions and territories where no coherent governing structure exists.  Our formerly oil-dependent existence is transforming into energy independence here at home, essential to our security.

 

General James Mattis well framed the added growing national security challenges of a new resource challenged era saying that “the effects of a changing climate — such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others — greatly impact our security situation.” 

 

As we move deeper into this 21st Century, our aspirations to meet new global challenges of population growth, resource limits, and carbon emissions must be no less wise. While the Greatest Generation saved the world from imperialist and later Soviet Communist tyranny, destructive specters of social conflicts of the 20th century remain. In the words of American author and historian Timothy Snyder, “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned.” 

 

Those divisive forces of religious, racial, ethnic, and tribal intolerance must be met and levelled in enforceable rules of law. For our inhabited world, the question will be whether those who love liberty can lead the world on an intelligent course to meet the future, or whether greater wars will result for challenged resources and unaddressed human conflicts.  Our nation needs the post-World War II institutions of global order more than ever. Without them, humankind will descend to chaos.

 

In each Century, at each testing, and at great human cost, liberty triumphed.  So today, in grateful memory, of those who gave their lives for liberty, let us rededicate and unify our nation in common cause. With like-minded Allies, on this Memorial Day of 2019, let each American today recommit to carry forward liberty’s legacy of protecting and defending it, recalling the rousing words in the poem Ulysses: “one equal temper of heroic hearts...strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Onward liberty!

 

Thank you.

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