Opening ceremony speech to American ex-pats in Florence, Italy, May 28, 2003

MEMORIAL DAY 2003 – FLORENCE 05/28/03

Senator Bosi, Rear Admiral Jaskot, Mr. Duffy, Monsignor Mora, Rabbi Levy, Mr. Evans, Consul General McIlhenny, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for honoring me with your invitation to speak at this Memorial Day ceremony here in Florence.

Memorial Day is a day set apart by our country to honor the service and  sacrifices of the men and women of the U.S. armed forces.

America has been a democratic republic since our beginning, and ever since, by the grace of God, Americans have been willing to fight and die to preserve this way of life. More than one million Americans have fallen in battle — the majority here in Europe in the last century’s devastating world wars.  Today, we are here to once again remember their sacrifice, recall their valor, and reflect on their love of country.  As we do so, we realize that their sacrifice cannot be repaid through our remembrance alone.  No, they would ask us to live each day with appreciation and commitment to ensuring that freedom’s reach is extended to all men so that we can be truly worthy of their sacrifice.

Many today ask whether war is ever justified; is it ever moral?  The men and women buried here before us knew the answer to that question.  In the face of a brutal fascist dictator who had engulfed Europe in flames of death, destruction, persecution, and holocaust, they knew that evil had to be defeated so that liberty could triumph.  They knew that defeating that evil would exact the life of some, the limbs of others, the idealist dreams of most.  And yet, they were willing to pay that price for the people of Europe and the people back home.

The men and women who we honor here today are part of a proud tradition that has stretched from North Africa, Normandy, Anzio, to the Battle of the Bulge. But this tradition is not only a tradition of military valor, of battles fought and won, but of decency and idealism that has turned enemies into allies.  As President Bush said earlier this month in addressing servicemen on the USS Abraham Lincoln: “When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country.”  It was this decency and idealism that  brought these men and women to the shores of Italy over a half century ago, and the same characteristics that allowed us to build a lasting peace in Europe — whose fruits you and I enjoy today.

As I travel around the world people ask me what makes America so great? My answer is our freedom and our people, and the willingness of our people to defend and die if necessary to preserve our freedom.

This Memorial Day, the sacrifices for freedom of our servicemen and women in Iraq are fresh in our minds.  After decades of repression under another corrupt and brutal regime, the Iraqi people today enjoy new freedoms — freedom of religion, of speech and expression and association — freedoms that would never have been possible without the willingness of America’s brave soldiers, and those of our Allies, to once again “strap them on” as they say, and answer the call from their civilian authorities, freely chosen, to go into battle. Just as American servicemen and women fought and died to bring peace and freedom to Italy and Europe, in World War I and II, today’s soldiers seek to extend these benefits to Iraq. We honor their  courage and professionalism. They are all volunteers, –Everyone of them.

As we look forward in this new century, we face difficult new challenges to the freedom we hold so dear.  Fundamentalist animosities cloud the horizon, senseless terrorism seeks to erode order and trust among societies.

Pope John Paul II often reaffirms that peace must be built on four pillars:  truth, justice, love, and liberty.  President Bush observed this month that “the advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world.  The reason he explained, is that “Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope.”

Engraved on the north wall of this memorial is an extract from General Dwight Eisenhower’s “Crusade in Europe.” It reads:

Freedom from fear and injustice and oppression

Is ours only in the measure that men

Who value such freedom are ready

To sustain its possession, to defend it

Against every thrust from within or without.

 

Thanks to the American men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice, we today, who honor them, have reason to hope for the future.

The 19th Century English philosopher John Stuart Mill said,  “War is an ugly thing. But it is not the ugliest thing. The ugliest thing is that decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing is worse than war. A man who has nothing he cares about more than his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free unless made free and kept free by the assertions of better men than himself.

Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971 setting aside a day to honor our fallen comrades in memory of their supreme sacrifice.

It is also fitting that today we pay our respects to the 25 million living veterans in America who have served in America’s Armed Forces and the 2.5 million volunteers serving in today’s Armed forces, active and reserves.

The young people of the United States who make up our Armed Forces are role models. They are carrying on the tradition of patriotism and free choice that has sustained our nation for over 200 years.

Time and again after our brave warriors have gone into a foreign land to defeat an enemy and help rebuild a nation, the only thing that we have ever asked for were small plots of ground, such as this one here today, where we could bury our dead.

The people buried here certainly did not want to die. They were asked to come here and to fight. They did what their country asked them and they did die, never to return to their wonderful homeland, to see their mother, their wife, their children, their buddies. They are true heroes and we should never fail to honor them and thank them. You are doing that by your presence here today. Thank you and God Bless America.

It is now my honor as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See to read the President’s proclamation for Memorial Day 2003.