President Ronald Reagan, June 6, 1984. Normandy, France.
We stand today at a place of battle, one that 40 years ago saw
and felt the worst of war. Men bled and died here for a few feet
of - or inches of sand, as bullets and shellfire cut through their
ranks. About them, General Omar Bradley later said, "Every
man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero."
Some who survived the battle of June 6, 1944, are here today.
Others who hoped to return never did.
"Someday, Lis, I'll go back," said Private First Class
Peter Robert Zannata, of the 37th Engineer Combat Battalion, and
first assault wave to hit Omaha Beach. "I'll go back, and
I'll see it all again. I'll see the beach, the barricades, and
Those words of Private Zanatta come to us from his daughter, Lisa
Zanatta Henn, in a heart-rending story about the event her father
spoke of so often. "In his words, the Normandy invasion would
change his life forever," she said. She tells some of his
stories of World War II but says of her father, "the story
to end all stories was D-Day."
"He made me feel the fear of being on the boat waiting to
land. I can smell the ocean and feel the sea sickness. I can see
the looks on his fellow soldiers' faces-the fear, the anguish,
the uncertainty of what lay ahead. And when they landed, I can
feel the strength and courage of the men who took those first
steps through the tide to what must have surely looked like instant
Private Zannata's daughter wrote to me, "I don't know how
or why I can feel this emptiness, this fear, or this determination,
but I do. Maybe it's the bond I had with my father. All I know
is that it brings tears to my eyes to think about my father as
a 20-year old boy having to face that beach."
The anniversary of D-Day was always special to her family. And
like all the families of those who went to war, she describes
how she came to realize her own father's survival was a miracle:
"So many men died. I know that my father watched many of
his friends be killed. I know that he must have died inside a
little each time. But his explanation to me was, `You did what
you had to do, and you kept on going."
When men like Private Zannata and all our Allied forces stormed
the beaches of Normandy 40 years ago they came not as conquerors,
but as liberators. When these troops swept across the French countryside
and into the forests of Belgium and Luxembourg they came not to
take, but to return what had been wrongfully seized. When our
forces marched into Germany they came not to prey on a brave and
defeated people, but to nurture the seeds of democracy among those
who yearned to bee free again.
We salute them today. But, Mr. President [Francois Mitterand of
France], we also salute those who, like yourself, were already
engaging the enemy inside your beloved country-the French Resistance.
Your valiant struggle for France did so much to cripple the enemy
and spur the advance of the armies of liberation. The French Forces
of the Interior will forever personify courage and national spirit.
They will be a timeless inspiration to all who are free and to
all who would be free.
Today, in their memory, and for all who fought here, we celebrate
the triumph of democracy. We reaffirm the unity of democratic
people who fought a war and then joined with the vanquished in
a firm resolve to keep the peace.
From a terrible war we learned that unity made us invincible;
now, in peace, that same unity makes us secure. We sought to bring
all freedom-loving nations together in a community dedicated to
the defense and preservation of our sacred values. Our alliance,
forged in the crucible of war, tempered and shaped by the realities
of the post-war world, has succeeded. In Europe, the threat has
been contained, the peace has been kept.
Today, the living here assembled-officials, veterans, citizens-are
a tribute to what was achieved here 40 years ago. This land is
secure. We are free. These things are worth fighting and dying
Lisa Zannata Henn began her story by quoting her father, who promised
that he would return to Normandy. She ended with a promise to
her father, who died 8 years ago of cancer: "I'm going there,
Dad, and I'll see the beaches and the barricades and the monuments.
I'll see the graves, and I'll put flowers there just like you
wanted to do. I'll never forget what you went through, Dad, nor
will I let any one else forget. And, Dad, I'll always be proud."
Through the words of his loving daughter, who is here with us
today, a D-Day veteran has shown us the meaning of this day far
better than any President can. It is enough to say about Private
Zannata and all the men of honor and courage who fought beside
him four decades ago: We will always remember. We will always
be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.