My father-in-law was the featured speaker at the 2019 Memorial Day commemoration in Litchfield, CT. Below is the text of his speech. It is a profound statement and worthy of a read not just by Americans, but by citizens of all nations.
[Note: This speech was written for an American audience and delivered on Memorial Day, a holiday that commemorates American war dead. The author recognizes that the great victories of World War II were possible only because the people of many nations worked together, joined by a common sense of purpose and deep sacrifice, to overcome tyranny. The contributions of the valiant troops of the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Poland, and other nations who fought in World War II and participated in the D-Day landings cannot be overstated.]
“Les Américains Sont Ici”
Next week marks the 75th anniversary of two significant events in World War II: the liberation of Rome and the Allied landings on the 5 beaches of Normandy.
When the children of northern France heard and saw the commotion they ran to their parents asking: “What is happening? We see hundreds of ships in the ocean, loud noises and explosions, men jumping out of airplanes.”
The parents answered: “Les Américains Sont Ici.” “The Americans are here.” They did not say: “General Eisenhower is here;” they did not say: “Prime Minister Churchill is here;” they did not say: “President Roosevelt is here.” They said simply: “Les Américains Sont Ici.”
What happened here: airmen, navy sailors, soldiers, marines, and coast guard sailors educated in our nation’s schools, imbued with a love of country, and sustained by their training and personal bravery, mattered there.
Elsewhere in the war, the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Franklin, with over 3,000 sailors and officers on board, was bombed by Japanese aircraft in the Pacific theater. Almost 900 navy personnel were killed in a matter of minutes. On board the Franklin was a short, bespectacled, thirty – nine year old Navy chaplain who before the war had been a math professor at the College of the Holy Cross. Known to the Jewish sailors as “Rabbi Joe,” to the Protestant sailors as “Reverend Joe,” and to the Catholic sailors as “Father Joe.”
Father Joseph O’Callahan, S.J. immediately began leading sailors in casting bombs and ammunition overboard to prevent further explosions and hundreds of more deaths.
What happened here: his religious training, his spiritual faith, his devotion to duty, and his personal bravery, mattered there. And as Father O’Callahan ministered to the wounded and absolved the dying, he did not ask whether they were Catholic or not, because there was no religious test in the midst of a burning navy vessel, in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, in the midst of WW II.
There are in this audience veterans or relatives of veterans of WW I, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones. There are men and women who currently serve or whose family members currently serve on active duty or in reserve components. What they have fashioned in other years and in other places and what the current generation attempts to emulate have mattered then and now. For generations of veterans have taught us that patriotism is not measured by the size of your checkbook nor is it measured by how long your family has lived in the United States.
And to paraphrase President Kennedy from over half a century ago, “When Americans are sent to danger spots around the globe, we do not ask for white males only.”
In 2003 Judith and I were assigned to teach English, U.S. culture, and U.S. History to students in the former Soviet Union. When we first arrived in Ukraine we would walk down a gravel pathway, and passing a gathering of local citizens we would extend a greeting in our broken pronunciation of the Ukrainian language. There would be a pause and then we would hear the whisper: “Americanetz.”
They did not say: “That’s Judy and Tom”; they did not say: ”Those are the Hogans”; they did not say: “Those are Peace Corps volunteers”. They said simply: “Americanetz.”
What happened here in the creation of the Peace Corps in 1961 when it was enacted into law by a bipartisan Congress, has resulted in more than 235,000 volunteers serving at various times in 141 countries, and continues to matter throughout the world.
On the 300th anniversary of this historic community, what of us in Litchfield? When we hear the sirens and see the flashing lights at 1:30 in the morning, we know that there are EMTs, ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors, firemen, and policemen from East Litchfield, Northfield, Milton, Bantam, and Litchfield who answer the call of duty to protect us. What they do matters.
We are fortunate to have organizations such as Litchfield Health and Wellness Resources, the Rotary Club, the Lions Club, Womens’ Forum, the Road Race Committee, the Sports Booster Club, Junior Women, Community Service Fund, the VNA, and many others. We are fortunate to have Morgan-Weir American Legion Post 27 of Litchfield, Tyler-Seward-Kubish American Legion Post 44 of Bantam and Northfield Improvement Society that sponsor annual Memorial Day exercises for our town. Indeed, Morgan-Weir Post 27, founded in the immediate aftermath of WWI, observes its centennial this year.
Present today are religious leaders, who with their colleagues from other denominations, attempt to instill spiritual values in us. Present too are neighbors who serve us in public office. In this audience are teachers, library and museum personnel, fine arts presenters, Scouting leaders, people with mechanical and contracting skills, Little League and Soccer coaches, Moms and Dads, grandparents, people from all walks of life, people with all colors of collars who try to make a difference every day.
And what we in Litchfield do and say, and what our fellow citizens in the U.S. do and say matters elsewhere because the world is watching.
And if what we do and say resonates within other countries, then American citizens who travel to other parts of the world will be greeted with the words: “Les Américains Sont Ici.”
Across the nation this week there will be thousands of Memorial Day ceremonies; there will be parades, drums, and prayers. As part of that scene, may we pause to be grateful for the sacrifice of a few. Let us remember those whose names appear on these monuments who lost their lives in war:
WW I: Henry E. Cattey, Roy E. Cornwell, Clayton A. Devines, Joseph Donohue, August Guinchi, Robert P. Jeffries, Frank A. Morgan, Howard C. Sherry, James V. Weir.
WW II: Albert M. Baldi, Douglas Banker, Charles J. Bigenwalt, Frank G. Chase, Stephen B. Curtiss, Alexis Doster, Jr. Roger S. Downs, Charles A. Flament, Joseph R. Harnicar, Ludwig Kubish, Joseph P. Macejka, Bruce McCaskill, Louis J. Salcito, Walter A. Seward, William R. Taylor, James G. Theophilos, Thomas E. Tyler, John W. Zurich.
Vietnam: Gordon L. Cables.
And as we remember those who have died in war, and as we acknowledge the service of veterans and as we respect those who wear the uniform today, America will continue to be what it has been in the past and what it is today – the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Thomas F. Hogan