During my recent economic development mission to Europe, I had the opportunity to visit the beaches of Normandy. On a dreary and overcast June morning, 63 years ago, over 150,000 Allied troops descended on those beaches in the largest amphibious assault in the history of mankind. Led by Americans, this force had come to liberate a continent that for four years had been held hostage by the tyranny of the Nazi regime. Over 6,000 US soldiers were killed or wounded on that day in what was arguably one of the finest displays of American bravery.
While I know it may sound rather trite, as I looked out over those beaches of France and observed those thousand upon thousands of white crosses lined up in neat little rows, I could not help thinking of the enormous commitment and sacrifice to the cause of liberty that was displayed on this beach. Each cross was an individual act of bravery, each with its own story. And all of this sacrifice was to protect a way of life that we often take for granted.
In 1984 at a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, President Ronald Reagan related one of the most famous acts of valor from D-Day - the story of 225 Army Rangers, "the boys of Pointe du Hoc." Speaking from above those same cliffs, he told how these brave young men, under withering enemy fire, climbed the sheer cliffs, taking out the enemy guns and clearing the path to open up Europe to the Allies.
One of Reagan's most renowned speeches, his recounting of the bravery of the boys of Pointe du Hoc reminds us that the price to preserve liberty is steep and must often be paid with the blood of heroes.
At a much less famous ceremony, another story of bravery was recently told. On June 6 of this year, 63 years to the day after he had died on that same beach, the dog tag of Private William Bernice Clark was finally returned to his family.
It was found five years ago buried in the sands of Omaha Beach, near the spot where Private Clark had paid the ultimate price for cause of liberty. He was just 20 years old when he died on that beach, and though his body remains in France, his story of bravery has finally returned home to America.
This week we celebrate yet further testimony to our country's bravery. On America's first independence day, 56 men from separate parts of what was then a colony of Great Britain united to commit an audacious act. Unwilling to tolerate further tyranny, these men formally declared themselves and their fellow countrymen to be free from an oppressive government. In this one seminal act of courage and defiance, our nation, and the spirit of freedom that embodies it, was born.
Ours is a country that, from its birth, has refused to abide tyranny. We are comprised of individuals who time and again have been willing to doing whatever they must to promote the cause of liberty.
As we enjoy our traditional Fourth of July festivities, it is important that we take a moment to reflect upon what we are truly celebrating - the courage of the individual American spirit. Not just a thousand collective acts of bravery and sacrifice, but one individual act repeated a thousand times.
We are celebrating both the courage of the Founding Father and the bravery of the minuteman. We are celebrating every patriot who has come since, those whose names adorn schools and monuments and those who are known only to their families and communities. Each individual act has its own story, and each story is weaved together to make the tapestry of this great nation.
Never underestimate the power of the individual will, and never forget that you alone can play a meaningful role in making our country great. We are great because of Private Clark and the boys of Pointe du Hoc, who endured the bitterness of war. But we are also great because of those who in times of peace make commitments and sacrifices for our fellow Americans. Small acts of courage are cumulative, building upon each other to have an enduring impact on our society.
So mark this celebration as a time to commit yourselves to contribute what you can to the American cause, no matter how small.