Fifty years ago today, the man who just introduced me climbed down a cargo net into a small boat, rode toward shore until the boat grated against sand in waist-deep water, then, while gunfire cracked all around him, waded out into the water and onto Utah Beach. His experience would be terrifying, painful -- and triumphant.
Today, the President is in Normandy to commemorate Red Reeder's bravery and the bravery of the one hundred and seventy- five thousand men like him who opened General Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe." And as the President walks now among the graves overlooking the assault beaches, we gather here to remember the sacrifices made and the work done by people at home.
People like Dort Darrah Reeder, Red's wife. She was living with her four children at her in-law's house in Leavenworth, Kansas. There, they spent the long days waiting for the postman, waiting for V-mail from Red, or from Dort's brother and sister who were serving in the Pacific. Dort played a lot with the children -- "to distract us," one daughter remembers, "and probably to distract herself." On June 6 she had no idea where her husband was. But as the first stories came over the radio ... as they learned the invasion had begun ... they hoped. And they prayed.
As did the nation. Stores closed. People gathered in the streets to listen to reports over loudspeakers. In New York the Daily News threw out its lead stories and substituted the Lord's Prayer.
And in Bedford, Virginia, home of many of the men serving in the 116th Infantry Regiment, Company A -- which led the way at Omaha Beach -- people streamed into the Presbyterian Church, open for an evening vigil. They waited to hear about Bedford and Raymond Hoback ... Company A Commander Taylor Fellers ... Ray Nance.
Over the radio, President Roosevelt voiced the prayers of Bedford, Virginia, and cities and towns all over America:
And they did.
It is appropriate that we meet here to commemorate their actions. For while some of the greatest figures in our history rest in Arlington, most of the graves that stretch before us are of those known only by their families.
To stand here is to be reminded of how many sacrifices there were by people whose names we will never know, whom we cannot thank .... yet who by their deaths preserved freedom for all of us.
For as General Eisenhower deliberated in Portsmouth, England over the logistics of the invasion, Americans from Portsmouth, New Hampshire and every other town in America were working, too. They farmed. They worked in the defense plants making planes and tanks and shoes and canteens. They volunteered at the USO. They rolled bandages. They tended victory gardens. They ran scavenger hunts for old metal and rubber.
In 1940 it was an uncommon thing for women to work outside the home. But America's women went to work. They joined the Armed Forces in record numbers. They worked as clerks, mechanics, administrators, test pilots, meteorologists, and in factories.
Women like four sisters from Baltimore named Umboski. Their father had fought in World War I. He urged them to go to work to support the war. And so, on D-Day, all four were working at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard: Dorothy in the Boat Shop, Henrietta in the Small Boat Shop, Mildred in the supply yard and Agnes as an electrician ... building Coast Guard cutters.
On D-Day, the Columbus Star in Columbus, Ohio, published this: "Today is a fitting day to ask ourselves, am I doing enough? If I met a man who was there, could I look him squarely in the face and say, I did my share?" The American people did their share. And more.
June 6, 1944 shows how much we can do when we work together.
Today, there is so much to be hopeful about. The Cold War is over. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We saw Yitzchak Rabin and Yassir Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn and start down the path of peace. And we watched with awe as Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the President of a free South Africa.
At home, America is a country that can create jobs for its people, produce more Nobel prizewinners than anywhere on the globe, and settle disputes in legislatures or courts of law. But there is so much more to do.
If standing here in Arlington Cemetery -- if commemorating the sacrifices of D-Day and the Allied war effort teaches us anything - - it teaches us our incredible capacity to help each other. The story of D-Day makes clear that we are all capable of sacrificing for others. We are all capable of doing our part to make this -- our great country -- greater and to spread peace and democracy throughout this world.
I know this because as I look over this podium, I see the faces of the four Umboski sisters. They are here today. They have lived their lives in south Baltimore, raising families with the same vigor that they once built ships. They gave life to their children. And they helped bequeath freedom to us.
Dort Reeder is here, as well. For days after D-Day there were no letters at all. And then one day came a telegram from Red, saying "I'm doing fine." There was the moment of relief. And then Red's mother said, "He wouldn't send that if things were fine." And of course they weren't. And soon, the family was in Washington, visiting him in Walter Reed Hospital each day during the year it took him to recover from his wounds.
Finally, we are honored by the presence of a family from Bedford, Virginia. It wasn't until a month and a half after D-Day that the telegraph in Green's Drugstore began chattering with the official government notifications about the soldiers from Bedford. Twenty one sons of this small town died at Normandy that first day alone -- including the Hoback brothers and Taylor Fellers. Succeeding Taylor Fellers as Company Commander, though ... was Ray Nance. He was wounded at Normandy -- three times as he crossed the beach. But he survived. He came home. He raised a family. And he is here today, three weeks from his 80th birthday, with his wife, children and grandchildren.
And I say to the Nance family, to the families in Bedford, and to all those who anguished over the wounds ... and death ... of loved ones: Americans will never forget. We will forget neither our warriors nor those who fed, armed, and clothed them -- or prayed for their safe return. Decades from now, when there are none who remember from personal experience the sounds of battle at Normandy, when the only images are grainy photographs and newsreel footage, let us remember the noble purpose animating their effort.
Let us remember this time when Americans worked together.
Let us remember how a woman in Kansas ... an entire community in Virginia ... and four sisters in Baltimore ... united with an entire nation in the struggle to defeat tyranny. As we look around at their children and grandchildren, growing strong and tall in a world that is free, let us salute those within our shores whose sacrifice made it possible.
And now, I invite you to watch our President, as he begins the ceremony for those who risked their lives on a foreign shore, on the very beach where Red Reeder landed fifty years ago, and where was launched the fierce battle that became the crusade of every American.