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Posted on Sep 23, 2008 in Carlo D'Este, War College

Return to Normandy – Carlo D’Este Revisits the D-Day Invasion Site

By Carlo D'Este

During the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan came to the Pointe du Hoc to deliver one of the finest speeches he ever made. Standing just in front of the Ranger monument, he put into simple words of compassion what a grateful world felt about the great valor and sacrifice that took place on what is now ground just as hallowed as that of Gettysburg or Antietam. It is a speech that bears repeating. With the president of France at his side and before veterans and dignitaries, this is what he said.

Remarks at the U.S. Ranger Monument
Pointe du Hoc, France
June 6, 1984
By President Ronald Reagan

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

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We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 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, 225 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–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 90 could still bear arms.

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. 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.”

I think I know what you may be thinking right now–thinking, "We were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.” Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.

Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, "Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.

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1 Comment

  1. Hello !

    I am the french translator of Decision in Normandy. My translation is over but I have to reread it once more again; then I will contact in a near future (at the beginning of november) three famous french publishers and I will try to ask them to buy the copyright (Watsonlittle in London).I will seek for a contract.
    Best regards
    Pierre Jourdan, France.

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