THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON AND PRIME MINISTER MAJOR TO VETERANS OF THE AIR CAMPAIGN OF WORLD WAR II, THEIR FAMILIES AND THEIR GUESTS U.S. Cemetery Cambridge, United Kingdom (June 4, 1994)
10:46 A.M. (L)
PRIME MINISTER MAJOR: We are here today to remember the servicemen from America and Britain, from Canada and other commonwealths and Allied countries who gave their lives for Europe's freedom. As Winston Churchill reached the end of his own long life, he encompassed their achievements with these words: "Our comradeship and brotherhood in war were unexampled. We stood together and, because of that fact, the free world stands."
"Brotherhood" was a word Churchill often used for friendship between the English-speaking people. On the very eve of D-Day, he wrote to President Roosevelt of "an absolute brotherhood between the forces." That spirit has served our countries valiantly over the intervening 50 years, in war and in peace.
It is rooted in trust. And to quote Churchill again: "In common conceptions of what is right and decent -- a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice. And, above all, the love of personal freedom."
It is especially the brotherhood of airman to airman, soldier to soldier, and sailor to sailor that we commemorate at this time. Here, in Britain, 50 years ago, approaching D-Day, there were over one and a half million Americans on active service, under the command of General Eisenhower.
For a while, every 30th person in Britain was an American serviceman. In the European theater, more than 150,000 Americans, including 57,000 Airmen, lost their lives. Nearly 4,000 of them, mostly young men who flew extremely dangerous missions right here in this garden of remembrance in the midst of the English countryside. Over 5,000 more are commemorated in the Wall of the Missing.
Among them are a few who achieved fame. Some who, surely had they lived, would have been destined for fame. Many who were less well-known, and some who are unknown warriors. All their lives were cruelly cut short; and to them, all of us owe a debt too deep to pay.
Some of you here today will have come to Madingly to remember close relatives. You will have endured the life- long pain of losing those that you loved. Some here today will be honoring the memory of wartime comrades. You, too, ran the same risks. You, too, were ready to make the same sacrifice. To all of you, I offer the very warmest of welcomes.
We remember today why those lives were given. Those who came here from America were not, as we were, protecting their homes and families. America was not under direct threat from Europe. They didn't come here for national glory, not for profit, not for material gain. They came, many of you here today came, above all, to defend the values which Britons and Americans hold sacred: to defend freedom and democracy, justice and human rights. To help liberate the people of Europe from tyranny and to seek to build a better world thereafter.
President Franklin Roosevelt wrote out for Churchill some lines from Longfellow which sums it up: "Humanity, with all its fears, with all its hopes of future years, is hanging breathless on thy fate."
Throughout the joint efforts of all the Allies, the fate of Western Europe was resolved for the better in 1944 and 1945. But that mission didn't end in 1945. We have continued since to work together for our common values in the United Nations and in the Atlantic Alliance. We have had to make further sacrifices, some very recently -- in the Gulf War, for example. Among those buried here is an American servicemen from that combined action. For, in United Nations peacekeeping operations in many parts of the world, and the courage and the selflessness which you and all of your wartime comrades showed half a century ago, are still vital in today's trouble world.
Mr. President, there could be no more fitting time, or, I believe, place or company for your first official visit to the United Kingdom. On behalf of all my fellow citizens, I would like to thank you and your fellow Americans for your friendship and your unstinting support throughout the last 50 years and more.
Whenever the going has been hardest, Britons and Americans have stood together in unity of belief. The peoples of Europe owe their freedom and their peace to those we honor this weekend, both the living and the fallen. Here, today, at this tranquil memorial and a thousand more, generations to come will give thanks for all that they did to give us this peaceful today. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Prime Minister and Mrs. Major; Mr. MacLean; Chaplain; Secretary Bentsen: thank you for your fine remarks. To our British hosts and to all the distinguished Americans who are also here; members of the Congress; the administration; the Armed Forces: we have come here today, all of us, on a journey of remembrance.
For some, like Secretary Bentsen, it was a journey to retrace time, to go back 50 summers and more when they took to airfields like these. For others, it is a journey to honor those who fought and those who died for the world in which we came of age.
In this moment, all of us are joined in a sense of pride, in a sense of indebtedness, a sense of wonder and a sense of determination to carry on that work and never forget.
On these ancient grounds, 3,812 Americans are buried, Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors. More than 5,000 others are remembered on the Wall of the Missing. The names of some we honor echo still in our nation's memory. Names like Joseph Kennedy, Jr., the brother of our late president, a young man for whom a distinguished political career was predicted, who gave his life for our country. Or Glen Miller, whose wonderful Moonlight Serenade soothed a savage world and still makes us tap our feet.
In death, all these people on the Wall and buried behind us were equal. They came from every state in the Union. They were of many races and religions. They had names like Carillo, Kaufman and Wood. They were, all of them, Americans. They fought to defeat a great evil which threatened to destroy our very way of life -- what Winston Churchill called "the great principles of freedom and the rights of man," which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world.
For long months Britain bravely carried that fight on alone. In the Battle of Britain night after frightful night the people of this beseiged island withstood this attack of Nazi bombers. It was their finest hour. Amid the horror the British looked west for help. Then the Yanks came, deepening one of history's profoundest bonds.
Overnight, it seems, tens of thousands of GIs filled the streets and camps across southern England. All these many years later we find the memories of many of them very vivid -- smiling GIs tossing packs of spearmint gum to British schoolboys, new faces and funny accents at corner pubs, Lindy hops in London, kids from Milwaukee invited in for high tea, all in uniforms filling the pews at British churches.
America gave to England an infusion of arms and men and materiel. The British gave our troops the feeling that they were not so far from home after all. The British gave us inspiration; the Americans gave in return hope.
At every level Yanks and Brits worked together like family. American intelligence services built on Britain's brilliant successes which were pure chronicles in breaking the German code. General Eisenhower chose British marshals to be his deputies. Of course, Montgomery and Ramsay and Tedder. Roosevelt and Churchill, even as they led the assault on tyranny and rallied their own people to support the crusade, encouraged each other with personal notes, all shared a sense of friendship that sustained them through the darkest moments of the war.
All shared a faith that our people, nurtured on freedom, would rise to the call of history. Nowhere was our bond more important than in the air war launched from the green fields like this one. The Royal Air Force and the Army Air Corps joined in countless sorties to cripple the Luftwaffen, to decimate the Nazi war machine, to soften the Atlantic Wall. One British citizen remembered, for a thousand days, the sky was never still.
It was some of the most dangerous work of the war and the pales of valor still amaze us all. Pilots going down with burning flames to give all the rest of the crew just a few more seconds to get out. Of the two crew members who shared the only parachute on board as they jumped together from their burning plane over England. The Marauders, Liberators, Mustangs and Flying Fortresses, the Halifaxes and Mosquitoes. They were all sturdy. But as one American remembered, the flack sometimes seemed so thick you could walk on it. The wild blue yonder above Europe could quickly turn cold and grey and lethal.
In just the two months before D-Day, the Allied forces lost over 2,000 planes and over 12,000 men. Because of their sacrifice, by June 6th of 1944, the Allies owned the air. Under the shield of that air supremacy, our ships crossed the channels, our men crossed the beaches.
A few days after the Normandy landing, General Eisenhower stood on the beaches of France with his young son, John, recently a graduate of West Point, and told him: "If I didn't have the air supremacy, I wouldn't be here." After D- Day, the Air Corps continued to fly toward freedom's horizon, until the entire continent was retained, and a world was set free.
The victory of the generation we honor today came at a high cost. It took many lives and much perseverance. After D-Day, it took freedom another year to reach the Elbas (ph.); it took another 44 years to reach Warsaw and Prague and East Berlin. And now it has reached Kiev and Moscow and even beyond. The mission of this time is to secure and expand its reach further.
The Airmen who flew these skies had a ritual that Secretary Bentsen mentioned -- for signalling to their comrades on the ground at the end of a mission. As they were coming in for landing, if they fired off a red flare it meant that there were casualties aboard. And if they fired off a green flare, it meant some lucky pilot had just completed his last mission before shipping out.
Well, the generation that won the Second World War completed their mission, whether they walk among us or lie among us today. And after looking down in sorrow at those who paid the ultimate price, let us lift our eyes to the skies in which they flew, the ones they once commanded. And let us send to them a signal, a signal of our own, a signal that we do remember, that we do honor, and that we shall always carry on the work of these knights borne on wings. May God bless them and all our peoples. (Applause.)
END 11:20 A.M. (L)