"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. And 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.'"
On the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, the fortieth President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, looked directly into the eyes of surviving soldiers who climbed Pointe du Hoc's treacherous cliffs.
"Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love."
While thinking about what our nation has experienced over the past several days, after one of the greatest wartime triumphs since World War II, the words spoken in France almost 27 years ago still resonate, with dramatic parallels. Like the American heroes in Normandy, the Navy SEALs in Afghanistan who helicoptered to Pakistan on May 1 undoubtedly knew that the most important moment of their lives had come. Like the brave men who confronted Adolf Hitler, they took it upon themselves to make sure Osama bin Laden could never kill again.
"The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt."
While this site is always hesitant to quote politicians and does not endorse any viewpoint other than supporting our troops, veterans, and their families, Reagan's June 6, 1984 address is regarded as one of the finest military-themed speeches ever delivered by an American president. Historian Douglas Brinkley, who wrote an entire book about the speech, finds 'The Boys of Pointe du Hoc' unusually personal for a commander-in-chief, and thus even more powerful.
"You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you."
Upon hearing their orders to storm the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where the world's most wanted terrorist was believed to be hiding, Navy SEALs who would carry out the dangerous mission reportedly cheered. Think about that for a moment. When told that they must conduct a perilous mission, and possibly die, they cheered. That says so much about the fighting spirit of a SEAL, and our entire volunteer force. Even while fighting in the desolation of anonymity, they never gave up, and never will. These warriors of all races, religions, and backgrounds know their country is behind them. They might not always see it, but they feel it.
"The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4:00 a.m. In Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying. And in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell."
This time in Philadelphia, they were chanting 'U-S-A' during a nationally-televised baseball game. The images and sounds of that patriotic outburst will endure for many years to come.
The SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden trained exhaustively to earn the opportunity of a lifetime, and they did not waste it. Many will risk their lives again in combat, and perhaps some already have. As they know better than any of us, danger has not passed, and true evil still exists.
"We will pray forever that someday that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it."
There is a long, deadly struggle ahead for our military in Afghanistan, and danger for our troops still in Iraq. As someone who hasn't served in the military, all I can do is pray for the safety of our men and women in harm's way. I will also pray for families of the the fallen, and especially loved ones of so many American heroes killed and wounded in April, who are suffering at this very moment.
"Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.'"
We do not know the names of the Navy SEALs who rid the world of Osama bin Laden. For grave, serious security reasons, I hope those names are not revealed anytime soon. Should any journalist uncover even one name before the military is ready to identify these heroes, they must do the patriotic thing. Wait.
Perhaps on May 1, 2051, an American president will be able to look these fine men in the eye, just like the commander-in-chief who addressed the boys of Pointe du Hoc 40 years after their date with destiny. He or she can thank them for an achievement that helped define a generation, and make sure that all of us, even children, always remember why we are living in freedom. But to me, it seems fitting that these Navy SEALs, who take pride in owning the night, are superheroes in silence.
"Strengthened by their courage and heartened by their valor and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died."
Somewhere in the moonlight, the men who changed the world are together, bound forever by an extraordinary mission that will always be inside them. As part of a legendary brotherhood of selflessness, these volunteer warriors personify the call of another commander-in-chief, John F. Kennedy. The SEALs asked not what their country could do for them, but what they could do for their country.
These are the boys of Abbottabad.