One hundred and forty thousand folks attended the ceremonies dedicating the National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington this afternoon: “World War II veterans honored at memorial dedication.”
President Bush spoke at the dedication, with decorated World War II veteran President Bush (41) and President Clinton also in attendance. Below is a photo of the three presidents.
In his dedication speech, President Bush paid tribute not only to the men who fought the war, but also to their Commander-in-Chief:
[A]ll these vast movements of men and armor were directed by one man who could not walk on his own strength. President Roosevelt brought his own advantages to the job. His resolve was stronger than the will of any dictator. His belief in democracy was absolute. He possessed a daring that kept the enemy guessing. He spoke to Americans with an optimism that lightened their task. And one of the saddest days of the war came just as it was ending, when the casualty notice in the morning paper began with the name, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commander-in-Chief.
Across the years, we still know his voice. And from his words, we know that he understood the character of the American people. Dictators and their generals had dismissed Americans as no match for a master race. FDR answered them. In one of his radio addresses, he said, “We have been described as a nation of weaklings, playboys. Let them tell that to General McArthur and his men. Let them tell that to the boys in the flying fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines.”
In all, more than 16 million Americans would put on the uniform of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the Marine, the Coast Guardsman or the Merchant Marine. They came from city streets and prairie towns, from public high schools and West Point. They were a modest bunch, and still are. The ranks were filled with men like Army Private Joe Sakato. In heavy fighting in France, he saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Sakato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding two, capturing four, and inspiring his whole unit to take the hill and destroy the enemy. (Applause.) Looking back on it 55 years later, Joe Sakato said, “I’m not a hero. Nowadays they call what I did ‘road rage.’” (Laughter.)…
This man’s conduct that day gained him the Medal of Honor, one of 464 awarded for actions in World War II. Americans in uniform served bravely, fought fiercely and kept their honor — even under the worst of conditions. Yet they were not warriors by nature. All they wanted was to finish the job and make it home. One soldier in the 58th Armor Field Artillery was known to have the best-kept rifle in the unit. He told his buddies he had plans for that weapon after the war. He said, “I want to take it home, cover it in salt, hang it on a wall in my living room so I can watch it rust.”
These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of us are very proud to call them Dad. They gave the best years of their lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted. (Applause.) They faced the most extreme danger, which took some and spared others, for reasons only known to God. And wherever they advanced or touched ground, they are remembered for their goodness and their decency. A Polish man recalls being marched through the German countryside in the last weeks of the war, when American forces suddenly appeared. He said, “Our two guards ran away. And this soldier with little blonde hair jumps off his tank. ‘You’re free,’ he shouts at us. We started hugging each other, crying and screaming, ‘God sent angels down to pick us up out of this hell place.’”…
On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who watched the train leave, and the years pass, can still see the handsome face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them, either.
At this place, at this Memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long-standing to an entire generation of Americans: those who died; those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind. And now I ask every man and woman who saw and lived World War II — every member of that generation — to please rise as you are able, and receive the thanks of our great nation.
Below is a photo of World War II vet Larry Plum wearing a photo of himself (lower L) and his brothers brothers John, George, James and Lincoln, all of whom served on active duty during the war.
Below is a photo of our fellow Minnesotan J.R Hein, of Walker, showing his feelings during the closing remarks of the dedication ceremony.
In the photo below military aircraft pass the Washington Monument during a fly-over at the conclusion of the dedication ceremony.