05.28.09

Senator Richard Burr Honors Veterans in Speech at American Cemetery in Normandy

U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, led a delegation of Senators to the official Memorial Day Ceremonies at the Normandy American Cemetery in France where he gave a speech honoring American veterans. He then laid a wreath in honor of the more than 10,000 American service members who gave their lives on the beaches of Normandy and made possible the liberation of Europe in World War II. There are 269 North Carolinians interred in the Normandy American Cemetery. The full text of Burr's speech can be found below:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to have the privilege to speak to you today. I am humbled to be in the presence of so many World War II veterans, most notably those that stormed these beaches 65 years ago and fought the battles that liberated France.

Ernie Pyle, the famous American war correspondent once wrote, "War makes strange giant creatures out of little routine men who inhabit the earth." Sixty five years ago today, tens of thousands of routine men waited, as Ray Lambert did, in marshalling areas and airfields across England.

To give you some sense of the magnitude of the Allied commitment to liberate France, over three hundred thousand troops in 38 divisions, over 500 squadrons of aircraft, and nearly 7,000 naval vessels were assigned to Operations Neptune and Overlord. That imposing armada was the culmination of the collective treasure and industry of free nations joined together in a common purpose. But the battles were ultimately decided, as they have always been, by ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things.

Ray and his brothers-in-arms did not set out to make history. They set out only to do their jobs, protect their buddies, and go home. But they made history nonetheless. It was their sacrifices on these beaches and among these hedgerows that allow us to stand in a free France - a free Europe - on this most important of days.

It is important to remember that the troops who landed here were representative of the nearly ten million American men drafted into military service and the five and a half million who volunteered during the war years. They were an extension of an American home front made up of folks from all ages and walks of life; people from cities and small towns who toiled on factory floors, in shipyards, and on farms and who organized communities across the United States with war bond drives, the rationing of sugar, and the conservation of rubber and metal. Such a total and unflinching commitment to victory might seem somehow quaint to us in today's developed world, where we enjoy an abundance of everything, but the men, women, and children of that era were used to sacrifice, and they had known hunger and hardship for years before the war began.

They were a tough bunch.Some of those tough Americans came from my home state of North Carolina.Men like Charles and James Summers, brothers from the small town of Archdale. In early June of 1944, James was serving in Italy. His older brother Charles was preparing to land on the Normandy coast. Charles was killed shortly after the landing, James four months later. Today, they lay side by side in this cemetery, six decades and 4,000 miles from home. Their sister Betty still lives near Archdale and looks forward to the day when she can visit them here, and be close to them once more.

Charles and James Summers were everyday Americans who answered the call to service in those difficult times - citizens who became soldiers and left their jobs and families in towns like Archdale, Greenville, and Wilmington to cross the ocean and join the fight. Most who landed on the beaches nearby had never seen combat and, though well equipped, they couldn't imagine the fierce fight that lay ahead in the hedgerows and forests south of here. Throughout the summer of '44, they doggedly made up for their shortcomings with superb leadership and determined spirit.

Two hundred and sixty nine North Carolinians rest nearby; the names of nine are etched on the wall in the Garden of the Missing. They are joined among the silent rows of crosses by over nine thousand of their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and coast guardsmen who answered their nation's and freedom's call.

Their legacy is alive today, seven years into a struggle to defeat another violent and oppressive ideology. The same selfless devotion that inspired and sustained the generation that fought and won World War II, inspires and sustains the young men and women who at this very hour are standing watch on lonely mountain outposts and patrolling the streets of desert villages. They face another great test of wills in the fight against terrorism and these sons and daughters of America understand clearly what's at stake in this fight. They have experienced hardships few will ever endure, confronted challenges and setbacks with grace and resolve, and prevailed when the odds were stacked against them. And like their forefathers, the latest American generation to come of age on distant battlefields also knows the horrible toll war exacts on mind, body, and soul. Since 2001, they have shouldered the heavy burdens of combat and struggled with its often lonely aftermath.

Foremost in our minds and hearts today is the American generation that helped liberate France from Nazi oppression and ultimately changed the course of history. But we also honor the generations that came before them who have unselfishly answered the call to service and given their lives in peace and war. Like the young giants who once crossed this shore and never went home, they are a constant reminder that liberty is never a guarantee, but a gift that must be defended.

May God bless them and their families, and may God bless America.