As we celebrate our nation’s Declaration of Independence this 4th of July, I found myself re-watching a famous presidential address, widely considered one of the most powerful speeches delivered in the 20th century. At a time when our nation is actively confronting the difficult issues of race and opportunity, I hope we can all pause to appreciate the incredible sacrifices made that ensured our continued right to free expression in America.
On June 6, 1984, President Reagan delivered his famous “Boys of Pointe du Hoc” speech. It was the 40th anniversary of the daring D-Day Invasion that turned the tide of World War II, leading to the liberation of occupied France and the eventual downfall of Hitler’s Third Reich. Among the crowd were a few dozen Army rangers who survived that day. Against incredible odds they climbed 100 foot cliffs with grappling hooks and ropes, all while German machine gun fire and grenades rained down on them. I have been blessed to have visited the site, along with other D-Day landing beaches, and I cannot put into words how awe-inspiring their efforts were. The enormity of their sense of duty, and willingness to sacrifice haunts me to this day.
My favorite lines:
· “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. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
· “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.”
· “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 Reagan’s closing: “Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”
I would encourage you to watch the full video here.
On this Independence Day, 36 years after Reagan’s speech and 76 years after Western allies banded together to save freedom, we find an America that seems deeply divided. Seemingly divided over some of the same issues that nearly destroyed the country in the 1860’s, some of which have persisted to this day. People are tired and angry, as they should be. But if we learn nothing else from the lessons of Pointe du Hoc, let’s remember this…far more has been accomplished in history by working together for change, rather than by tearing each other apart.
Reasonable dialogue amongst “everyday people” (check out Sly and The Family Stone if you need a refresher), rather than fiery rhetoric by talking heads, will be the surest path to a better future for all. On this Independence Day let’s appreciate the legacy of freedom we have inherited, and find a little grace in our hearts for those whose experiences may be different than ours. Patience and understanding are needed now more than ever.