Nations connected at the heart
I am honored to stand here today, in the halls of the French Senate, in the company of men and woman who share a common bond.
We are united in our love of freedom and our appreciation for those brave souls who risked their lives to liberate this continent more than seventy years ago.
Our nations, America and France, are connected at a heart level, thanks to years of cooperation.
That relationship began hundreds of years ago, when the Marquis de Lafayette trained troops in our war for Independence.
It continued 70 years ago, as American soldiers stormed ashore in Normandy.
That connection is rooted in history and refreshed by current events.
Know that my fellow Americans and I mourned the tragedy of the Paris attacks, even as we have felt the sting of terror in our own cities.
As we ponder our fates in a world unsettled by war in the Middle East, the fracturing of the European Union and angry voters everywhere, the lessons of Utah Beach are more important than ever.
It is a simple truth that, sometimes, men and women of principle must take a stand for liberty. That applies not only to one’s own individual freedom, but also the liberty of others as well.
Despite our best hopes for this world, there will always be a need for men and women, joined as nations, to take a stand against oppression. If we forget this simple fact, we consign ourselves to the whims of history when it repeats itself.
That is why repositories of memory like the Utah Beach D-Day Landing Museum are so important.
Carefully woven into the displays are artifacts and personal recollections that bring the essential elements of the human condition to life.
In the museum, we learn about the Normandy region in the days before the German invasion, still scarred by the loss of life in another world war just years before.
In the city square of Ste. Marie Du Mont, a monument bears the names of sons, brothers and fathers lost in combat.
It is sobering to consider that a shootout between American paratroopers and German occupiers took place across that very square, with bullets ricocheting near that very monument.
History repeated itself.
In the museum, we see the stories of villagers displaced from their homes, forced into the hard labor of building the Atlantic Wall, their crops confiscated to feed their occupiers.
We hear the voices of the French Resistance, brave freedom fighters who risked their lives to scout the beaches and share intelligence with the Allies in advance of their violent arrival.
We see the viewpoint of individual warriors, braving enemy fire in Higgins Boats, under a parachute’s canopy and, like my own father, at the controls of a B-26 bomber.
In one film, titled Victory in the Sand, we experience the chaos of battle and learn the individual stories of people whose lives it changed forever.
While the museum commemorates D-Day in exquisite detail, visitors emerge with more than a grasp of technology or the invasion’s scale. As they complete their visit, step through the doors and feel the sea air on their faces, they are left with a deep impression. They carry with them a sobering sense of man’s inhumanity to man and the lengths to which civilized societies must go to bring peace.
This is the lesson of D-Day.
No matter the century or continent, the essential flaws of mankind, the jealousy, the greed, the hunger for power, cannot reign unchecked.
And so, to preserve liberty, to protect the oppressed of this generation and the next, we will tell the story to anyone who will listen. We will tell that story using every tool at our disposal.
With artifacts and the written word, with interactive displays and video, we stimulate the senses, pique one’s curiosity and begin dialogue.
In our modern world, with people numbed by an endless avalanche of news, most of it bad, our challenge is multiplied, but we won’t relent.
This story is too important…to all of us. It must be told…or it will be repeated.
So, this evening, we are proud to announce the formation of the Utah Beach Association, a group committed to telling this vital story, by ensuring the museum is the gold standard of its kind.
By becoming a member of the Utah Beach Association, you can invest in this effort to honor the memories of the fallen and ensure their sacrifice was not in vain.
I challenge you to join us on our journey. There is much to be done.
With new exhibits under construction, artifacts to be received and preserved, and educational programs to update, the museum is abuzz with activity.
The best time to join us is now. So, in closing I say thank you all for your friendship, your sense of civic duty and your appreciation of history’s lessons.
Together, let’s make the world a better, more peaceful place.