May 25, 2012
If we forget what we did, we will forget who we are. Those were the words of President Ronald Reagan in his Farewell Address to the American people in 1989. They are especially poignant words, since it was just five years later that the former President was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease, a fatal ailment that first robs victims of their precious memories.
Ronald Reagan has been given credit for restoring American patriotism at a time when corrosive cynicism threatened all our institutions. This Memorial Day is a good time to remember who we are.
Family Research Council is grateful to Californias Kim Bengard, who serves as a board member. Kim and her husband Tom have given so much to FRC, but they have also helped to give us back our memories. They produced Mother of Normandy. This film and website tells the story of Madame Simone Renaud, wife of the Mayor of the little French village of Sainte Mere Eglise. This was the first town liberated by American soldiers when we invaded on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Madame Renaud, fluent in English, began writing to the young widows and mothers of American soldiers who had been killed fighting to free her country. She was shown in LIFE magazine putting flowers on the grave of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the son of the President. What began as a mission of mercy became a lifetime calling. Mother of Normandy tells this touching story of war and remembrance.
President Reagan gave another famous speech, this one at the 1984 ceremonies marking the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. The president spoke from the heights that had been scaled by American Rangers. Many of the survivors sat before him as he hailed The Boys of Pointe du Hoc. He lauded their heroism and thanked them on behalf of a grateful nation for their sacrifices.
Historian Douglas Brinkley says that Reagan revived American patriotism with this speech. By focusing on a small group—those valiant few who scaled the heights on that cold and blustery June morning—Reagan lifted up all soldiers, all sailors, and all airmen. He lifted up an entire generation of Americans who gave their all for Victory.
Subsequent presidents have gone to Normandy. It is no partisan statement to say their words there have been largely forgotten. One of them even hovered over the nations like a god. Hovered and departed.
Reagan, with his unerring sense of drama, took care not to make his words too abstract. He pointed to living, breathing men, to the gnarled hands that once stabbed their daggers into hard and unyielding stone to reclaim a continent for freedom. Like Lincoln, he lifted them up, not himself. This is why we can remember what he said there.
He spoke of the band of brothers who buried their dearest friends in Normandy. Today we can think of those beaches at Normandy and know that they represent all the places where American warriors have carried the flag to defend our enduring freedom.
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial beginning of the summer season. It is not unfitting to take time for recreation and enjoyment. Those who fought and died enjoyed the blessings of liberty, too. They wanted us to share in that joy of living.
Still, we should take time as well to thank God for the gift of freedom. Let us pray for the families of those they left behind. We can pray, as well, for the families who today receive uniformed officers bearing the dreaded news: their loved one has been killed inAfghanistan, or some other trouble spot.
We can share with our own families words from Stephen Spenders poem, words that Ronald Reagan memorably shared with the world.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.