WASHINGTON, D.C. — They may move more slowly than they did in 1945, but World War II veterans were out in force at the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall here May 8 to remember their comrades on the 70th anniversary of when the guns stopped in Europe.
More than 500 veterans turned out — the youngest in their late 80s — to represent the generation that went to war to save liberty and democracy.
Susan Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, represented President Barack Obama at the ceremony. Katherine Korbel stood in for her sister, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, at the ceremony.
Rice told the crowd that on V-E Day, celebrations were mixed with sorrows for what was lost.
“As the news spread, and people poured into the streets to celebrate in New York, London and Paris, cheers and laughter mixed freely with tears,” she said. “(But) even in the midst of one triumph, we vowed to fight on and finish the war in the Pacific.”
Now 70 years from that turning point, America remembers the sacrifices made to preserve freedom, Rice said. She remembered the allies from Britain, Poland, France and resistance movements throughout Europe. She remembered the sacrifices of Russia and the nations that then made up the Soviet Union.
Following the ceremony, to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of fighting in Europe, or V-E Day, aircraft from all periods of World War II took to the skies during the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover.
Coordinated by the Commemorative Air Force based in Dallas, more than 50 aircraft, representing the evolution of aviation technology throughout the war, flew over the capital region. The aircraft flew in historically sequenced formations signifying the decisive battles of the war. The aircraft represented battles from Pearl Harbor and Midway to D-Day and Iwo Jima, with a final missing man formation.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa A. Disbrow represented the Air Force at the event.
“This impressive aerial display of heritage American combat aviation represents the technical prowess, innovation, and bravery of a great generation,” she said. “As we face future challenges and opportunities, we carry their legacy into the future. I am humbled to stand in the shadow of these magnificent aircraft and the tradition of valor they represent.”
Legacy of sacrifices
“Today, we can celebrate the legacy of their sacrifices. A legacy you could not imagine in 1945,” Rice said. That legacy is not limited to 70 years of peace in Europe, but also the way “the seed of democracy has flourished around the world,” she said.
The American and Russian soldiers who met at the prisoner of war camp in Torgau, Germany, April 25, 1945, were also witnesses of some of mankind’s most unconscionable acts, Rice said. Hardened soldiers were sickened by what they saw in Dachau and Auschwitz, and “as one world we proclaimed, ‘never again,’ ” she said.
Rice added, “That legacy continues to drive us to stand against atrocities and acts of mass inhumanity.”
The war changed America at home, Rice said, noting African-American soldiers came home and fought for justice and their rights. Women, too, looked at their contributions in the military and in factories and sought more.
The WWII generation
Rice looked at the World War II veterans and said America owes them an unpayable debt. She thanked them in the president’s name and said the story of their generation will never be forgotten.
“We will continue to tell it to children blessedly untouched by war, so they understand … the price of freedom,” she said.
Korbel and Albright were both refugees from Hitler’s regime. Their father, Josef, was a Czechoslovakian diplomat forced to flee from Prague when Germany invaded in 1939, Korbel said. The family settled in England, where her father advised the Czech government in exile, and as they endured the Blitz in London, Albright believed that no one else would stand up to the Axis.
“Then one day, wonderful news came from across the sea: A brave nation had answered the call and was on its way to rescue freedom,” Korbel said. “Soon, American soldiers arrived in Britain, bringing with them their boundless energy, confident wisecracks and funny way of walking. On the streets of British cities and towns, children like me trailed along behind them in awe of their uniforms and all that they represented.”
Korbel noticed that in June 1944 all of the Americans were gone suddenly, off to the fight in France.
“In the months that followed, almost an entire continent lost to evil had to be retaken village by village, hill by hill,” she said. “It was an assault against dug-in positions, amid rain and mud and blood and darkness, winnable only through unbelievable courage and with unbearable losses.”
Courage, ingenuity, faith and industry “are the hallmarks of the World War II generation,” Korbel said.
She said Americans can never forget that “we are recipients of a precious gift from those heroes whose conscience could not accept the theft of liberty or the reality of aggression and genocide.”
Korbel added, “To be true to those heroes, we must never forget why World War II was fought and how it was won. We must maintain solidarity with one another, never allowing our differences to interfere with the most profound values we share. And we must be willing to uphold that principle by defending democratic institutions and values throughout the world.”
Content from this story was used from two separate stories by Jim Garamone, DoD News.