[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[May 8, 1995]
[Pages 654-657]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the 50th Anniversary of V-E Day in Arlington, Virginia
May 8, 1995

    Thank you, Colonel McIntosh, for those remarkable words and your 
remarkable service. General Shalikashvili, Secretary Perry, Secretary 
Brown, Father Sampson, Members of Congress, members of the Armed Forces, 
distinguished guests, American veterans all, and especially to our most 
honored guests, the veterans of the Second World War:
    Fifty years ago on this day the guns of war in Europe fell silent. A 
long shadow that had been cast on the entire Continent was lifted. 
Freedom's warriors rejoiced. We come today, 50 years later, to recall 
their triumph, to remember their sacrifice, and to rededicate ourselves 
to the ideals for which they fought and for which so many of them died.
    By Victory Day in Europe, from the beaches of Normandy to the gates 
of Moscow, some 40 million people lost their lives in World War II. 
These enormous but faceless numbers hid

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millions upon millions of personal tragedies: soldiers shot and 
shattered by weapons of war, prisoners cut down by disease and 
starvation, children buried in the rubble of bombed-out buildings, and 
entire families exterminated solely because of the blood that ran in 
their veins. And for every death, so many more fell wounded, physically 
and emotionally. They would survive, but their lives would be changed 
    At war's end, an 8-year-old boy, already a veteran of air raids and 
bomb shelters, was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He 
answered with one word, ``Alive.''
    The American people, secure on our continent, sobered by memories of 
the last war, were not eager to enter into the struggle. But they were 
stirred by the extraordinary courage of the British, all alone and 
carrying liberty's flickering torch into Europe's darkening night. 
Pushed by their passion for freedom, prodded by the wise leadership of 
President Roosevelt, and provoked finally by the infamy at Pearl Harbor, 
Americans went to war.
    It became an all-consuming effort. Millions were heroes here on the 
homefront. They built the planes, the ships, the tanks, the trucks that 
carried the Allied armies into battle. They bought victory bonds to pay 
for the war. They collected scrap metal for weapons, worn-out rubber for 
tires, left-over fat for explosives. And they planted 20 million victory 
gardens to help feed the Nation.
    With good cheer they sacrificed, rationing food and clothing, 
holding themselves to 3 gallons of gas a week. And President Roosevelt 
willed them onward. ``There is one front and one battle,'' he said, 
``where everyone in the United States, every man, woman, and child, is 
in action. That front is right here at home.''
    Across the ocean, their fathers and brothers, sisters and mothers, 
friends and neighbors gave the best years of their lives to the terrible 
business of war. Some of them were among the greatest leaders our 
country and the world have ever known: Eisenhower, Marshall, Bradley, 
Patton. But no matter their rank, every soldier, airman, marine, sailor, 
every merchant marine, every nurse, every doctor was a hero who carried 
the banner of justice into the battle for freedom.
    Some of them are here with us today. The gentleman who introduced 
me, Frederick McIntosh, was then an Air Force lieutenant. He flew, as 
has been said, 104 missions. His daring dive-bomb raids on D-Day helped 
clear the way for the Allied landing. Another veteran behind me, Robert 
Katayama, a private with the Japanese-American 442d Regimental Combat 
Team that finally broke through the formidable Gothic line in Italy 
after 5 months of ferocious assault; another, Anna Connelly Wilson, a 
nurse who tended American soldiers moving gasoline and munitions across 
the deserts of Iran into the hands of our Russian allies; another, Abben 
MaGuire, a Navy demolition expert who landed on Omaha Beach ahead of the 
Allied assault, clearing mines, barbed wire, and booby traps under heavy 
fire from the enemy; another, George Ellers, a seaman on Coast Guard 
boats, charged with protecting the merchant marine armadas that ferried 
food and supplies from America to Europe and beyond; Joseph Kahoe, a 
lieutenant with the all-African-American 761st Tank Battalion, who 
braved the deadening cold of the Ardennes and the brutal Nazi 
counterattacks to help win the Battle of the Bulge; and Father Francis 
Sampson, an Army chaplain who parachuted into Normandy, then into 
Holland, was wounded, captured, but managed to escape.
    In their bravery, and that of all their brothers and sisters in 
arms, America found the will to defeat the forces of fascism. And today 
we, the sons and daughters of their sacrifice, say thank you, and well 
    I ask all the veterans of World War II now to stand and be 
recognized. [Applause]
    During the war's final weeks, America's fighting forces thundered 
across Europe, liberating small villages and great cities from a long 
nightmare. Many witnessed an outpouring of love and gratitude they would 
remember for the rest of their lives.
    Deep in the Bavarian countryside, Corporal Bill Ellington piloted 
his armored vehicle into a battle against retreating enemy troops. As a 
firefight raged, a rail-thin teenage boy ran, shouting toward the tank. 
He was a young Polish Jew, Samuel Pisar, who had survived 4 years at 
Auschwitz and other concentration camps, but along the way had lost his 
entire family. Samuel Pisar had seen the tank and its glorious 5-point 
white star from his hideaway in a barn.
    As Ellington looked down at him, the boy dropped to his knees and 
repeated over and over the few words of English his mother had taught 
him: ``God bless America. God bless America.'' And Ellington, the son of 
a slave,

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lifted the boy through the hatch and into the warm embrace of freedom.
    Bill Ellington died a few years ago. But Samuel Pisar, now an 
American citizen, is here with us today. And I'd like to ask him to 
stand as a reminder of what that war was all about. [Applause]
    The saga of hope emerged from the ashes of a horror that defies 
comprehension still: the Nazi death camps. In the gas chambers and 
crematoriums was proof of man's infinite capacity for evil. In the empty 
eyes of the skeletal survivors was a question that to this day has never 
been answered: How could this happen?
    But at 2:40 a.m. on May 7th, in a small red-brick schoolhouse in 
France, the Germans signed their unconditional surrender. The armistice 
took effect the next day, this day 50 years ago.
    News of the victory spread and grew from a ripple of excitement to a 
river of joy. The liberated capitals of Western Europe were awash in 
relief and jubilation. The boulevards burst with flag-waving, teary-eyed 
thanksgiving celebrants. Everywhere people tore down their blackout 
curtains and let the light of peace shine out.
    In the sky over Moscow, gigantic white rays of light from huge 
projectors slashed the darkness of night, and a 1,000-gun salute shook 
the city. There, too, millions teemed into the street. But their joy was 
dulled by the pain of their nation's unique sacrifice, for one out of 
every eight Soviet citizens was killed in World War II, 27 million 
people. At almost every table in every home there was an empty place.
    In London, where a brave and defiant people had stood alone through 
the war's darkest hours, great bonfires ringed the city. And on the 
balcony of Buckingham Palace, Prime Minister Churchill stilled the 
delirious crowd with his own silence. Then he took one, deep, all-
embracing bow, and the crowd exploded into a roar of triumph. ``This is 
your victory,'' Churchill declared. And the people of the United Kingdom 
answered back as one: ``No, it is yours.'' Of course, both were right.
    Here at home, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Dome, the Statute 
of Liberty were bathed in floodlights for the very first time since 
Pearl Harbor. New York was New Year's Day and the Fourth of July rolled 
into one. Millions cheered, shouted, sang, danced in the streets. And in 
an image that traveled all around the world, a sailor took a nurse in 
his arms and kissed her, with all the pent-up youthful enthusiasm of a 
people forgetting for an instant the new burdens of adulthood.
    Less than a month in office, President Truman addressed the Nation 
and said, ``This is a solemn but glorious hour. I only wish FDR had 
lived to witness this day.'' Millions of Americans shared that 
conviction, for in their darkest hour, President Roosevelt refused to 
let us give up in despair. He rallied the Americans to defeat depression 
and triumph in war. And so it was his victory, too.
    It was America's victory, but the job for us was not yet complete. 
In the Pacific, war raged on. During the 3 months between V-E and V-J 
Day, many thousands more of our fighting men and women would lose their 
lives. After Japan surrendered, who could have blamed the American 
people for wanting to turn from the front lines abroad to the homefront? 
But after winning the most difficult and crucial victory in our Nation's 
history, our leaders were determined not to repeat the mistakes of the 
    Instead, they took to new challenges with a newfound confidence. And 
this remarkable generation of Americans then, through NATO, the United 
Nations, and the Marshall plan, created the institutions and provided 
the resources and the vision that brought half a century of security and 
prosperity to the West and brought our former enemies back to life and 
to true partnership with us. And their special resolve and military 
strength held totalitarianism in check until the power of democracy, the 
failure of communism, and the heroic determination of people to be free 
prevailed in the cold war.
    Today we must draw inspiration from the extraordinary generation we 
come here to honor, a generation that won the war and then made sure we 
would not lose the peace, a generation that understood our destiny is 
inexorably linked to that of other nations, a generation that believed 
that with our great wealth, great power, and great blessings of 
democratic freedom come great responsibilities to stand for and work for 
the common good.
    So let me say again to the generation that won the Second World War, 
on this 50th anniversary, on behalf of the American people, we say thank 
you. Thank you, and God bless you. Because of all you did, we live in a 
moment of hope, in a Nation at peace. For the first time since the dawn 
of the nuclear age, no

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Russian missiles are pointed at our children. Our economy is sound. And 
because free markets and democracy now are on the march throughout the 
world, more people than ever before have the opportunity to reach their 
God-given potential. All because of what you did 50 years ago.
    But there is one thing that even you could not do, that no 
generation can ever do. You could not banish the forces of darkness from 
the future. We confront them now in different forms all around the world 
and, painfully, here at home. But you taught us the most important 
lesson: that we can prevail over the forces of darkness, that we must 
prevail. That is what we owe to you and the incomparable legacy you have 
given us and what we all owe to the generations of remarkable Americans 
yet to come.
    Thank you for teaching us that lesson. God bless you, and God bless 

Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. at Fort Myer.