We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied peoples joined in battle to reclaim
this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible
shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for
liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy
the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking
unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft,
but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men,
and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the
morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran
to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the
invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The
Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would
be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers – at the edge of the cliffs shooting
down at them with machine-guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers
began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull
themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was
cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back,
and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top,
and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the
continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting
only ninety could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the
top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are
the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are
men who in your lives fought for life…and left the vivid air signed with your honor’…
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the
day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys
of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What
impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take
these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and
somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they
fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead
or on the next. It was the deep knowledge – and pray God we have not lost it – that there
is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of
force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those
others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and
democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of
government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight
tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.