Friday, May 21, 2010

The "Boys of Pointe du Hoc"

I like Peggy Noonan. I've liked her ever since I learned she was the speechwriter who wrote "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc" speech for Ronald Reagan's D-Day commemoration (the 40th anniversary) all those years ago. After Lincoln's Gettsyburg Address, I don't think better words were ever spoken by a U.S. President in honor of men who sacrificed, some of them their lives, in service to a cause of ultimate nobility. The anniversary of that day approaches soon, on June 6th. Here's just a portion:

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, two hundred and twenty-five 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.

And 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. And 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."

It's easy to forget, in these troubled days, that our nation has faced far worse calamities in the past. We who are worried about the fate of the Euro, the rise of Islamist terror and Iran and Pakistan's "Islamic bomb," and the weakening of the U.S. need to remember that we have seen worse. The blood of my grandfathers ran strong, and they clawed back the continent of Europe from the Nazis and re-took the Pacific from Imperial Japan. My father's generation fought the Soviets in hard places all over the world and finally set free the half of Europe which Roosevelt and Truman permitted to fall under their boots. We are not a perfect nation, nor are we a perfect people within it. And our generation may yet prove to be made of limper stuff than that of generations past. But I do not believe that this is so. I believe that we will rise again, by God's grace, as a force for good in the world.

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