Office of the Governor Rick Perry

Text of Gov. Perry’s Remarks at Ceremony Commemorating 58th Anniversary of the Allied Landings At Normandy Dallas

*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Thursday, June 06, 2002  •  Speech

(Note: Governor Perry frequently deviates from prepared text.)

My fellow Texans, today we stand in the company of heroes.  They are the men who answered the call of a nation.  They are the defenders of freedom who liberated a continent.  They are the living legacy of loving sacrifice.  They are our greatest generation…our World War II generation.

Today we commemorate the 58th anniversary of the most important day of the 20th Century…June 6th, 1944.

With General Eisenhower’s fateful decision to commence the invasion, the most massive display of military might ever assembled crossed the English Channel to fight the forces of oppression.  At midnight, the first wave of paratroopers would drop through bullet-riddled skies into the fields and villages of Northern France.

Hours later, the big guns of Allied Naval ships would unleash an unprecedented barrage on German fortifications.  And at dawn, waves of landing craft would embark for the beaches of Normandy where brave souls would encounter an uncertain fate.

The men who survived that day…who avoided the enemy mines…the machine gun fire…the snipers…they often say very little about it.  The children of my generation who gather at the funerals of these men often say they “never knew what dad did that day…they had no idea…he never really talked about it.”

Perhaps that is because, unlike those who glorify war, these men have seen the great destruction of it…the waste of young lives…and they prefer to talk about peace.

As our World War II generation thins with age, there has been a healthy renewal of interest in what they accomplished.  Many great books have been written that shed light on those dark but heroic times…and Americans have gone in droves to see pictures like “Saving Private Ryan.”

I remember the day I went to see that incredible movie.  I made the mistake of trying to do debate prep with my staff an hour after seeing it…quite frankly, we didn’t get one darn thing done.  My mind was with those men.

I was thinking about my father…Ray Perry…who was a tailgunner on a B-17 that flew 35 missions over Europe. 

What could have gone through his mind each time the aircraft roared down the runway and headed for another mission?  What was he thinking when the enemy flak whistled past his ear?  How did he feel when he lost his waist-gunner on their sixth mission and his eighteenth birthday?

It is a sobering thing that these profound thoughts are what 18, 19 and 20-year boys had to encounter thousands of miles away from home.

In the dawn of their lives, and at the calling of their nation, they sacrificed their dreams for ours’. 
Some had not even finished high school…many had yet to marry…and all of them had dreams about living full lives. 

Two summers ago, I had the great honor of accompanying my dad on his first return trip to Europe since World War II.  We visited his old air base in England, as well as my air base when I was stationed there in the 1970’s.  And then we traveled across the English Channel to commemorate D-Day.

At Normandy, we witnessed the hundred-foot cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc that Earl Rudder’s Rangers scaled in the face of enemy fire.  We saw the remnants of the enemy fortifications – the German pillboxes – that represented the front wall of oppression of the European Continent.

We walked through the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach where we observed the endless rows of white crosses and Stars of David marking the remains of thousands of American soldiers who rest in eternal peace.  In the quietness of that place, one can hear their voices whispering… “freedom is not free.”

Each day, there is a ceremony to lower the American and French flags in that cemetery.  On that day, a French woman in her sixties led my father to the flagpole. 

She was a child during the war.  She remembered the horrors of the Nazi occupation, and she was one of many who risked her life in support of the effort.  During the dark morning hours of the invasion, she lit fires to help guide the landing paratroopers away from the fields the Germans had flooded.  She will never forget what those men did so that she could be free.  Nor shall we.

To all the men here today who helped liberate Europe…who served alongside the heroes buried on those grounds…who were with them as they breathed their last breath…who wrote notes to their loved one’s to comfort them and tell them what it was like serving with them…we, the people of a grateful nation, offer our profound thanks.

As a nation, we must never allow such sacrifices to be taken for granted…to become a fading memory.  We must always remember.  We must continue to plant flowers at the gravesites of the loved and the lost.  We must display the flag with pride.  We must always observe days of remembrance…Memorial Day, Veterans Day and D-Day.
And there is one other thing we must do…the most important thing we can do to honor the memories of our fallen heroes, and the sacrifices of our living heroes…and that is to continue to stand for freedom wherever it is threatened, and wherever it is thirsted for.

Only by preserving the freedom these men fought for can we truly honor the totality of their sacrifice.  They gave us a precious gift…and in so doing, a great responsibility. 

May all who think we should pacify tyrants today learn the lessons of our past.  We cannot live side-by-side with the forces of oppression…we cannot break bread with those who would destroy us.  The mission of America has not changed in the new century.  We must fight the evil of terrorism as past generations fought the evils of Nazism and Communism.

We cannot let down our guard…we cannot shrink from the challenge ahead.  We must stand with our president, and with the men and women who wear the uniform of our nation. 

America is a special place…a land that attracts all who long to live in liberty.  Many risk their lives to reach our shores.  For them, as long as that great lady stands in the harbor with the flame that glows in the sky, freedom lives.

May we always stand for freedom…may we always remember the cost of defending it…and may we always be willing to pay the price for it.

God bless you, God bless America, and God bless the heroes of World War II.

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