Navy Memorial Dedication Ceremony (Normandy, France)

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As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, Normandy, France, Saturday, September 27, 2008

Good afternoon.... To our gracious hosts--Merci....

Let me add my congratulations to the Naval Order of the United States for spearheading the effort to establish this magnificent tribute to the brave heroes of our naval forces.

It's a great honor and special privilege to be a part of this most special occasion at this most hallowed place ...

Throughout history, brave men in decisive battles have changed the course of civilization.

The same can be said of the men who fought here on D-Day sixty-four years ago ... they, too, were a part of something profound and historic ... Victory or defeat at Normandy would determine the future ... not just for France or Europe, but for all of humanity ... for freedom ... for liberty ... On that cold June morning ... along the string of beaches below ... the brave, young men of the Allied Expeditionary Force engaged in one of the most decisive military battles in history. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it "the most difficult and complicated operation ever to take place."

And, none of it would have been possible without the support of Allied naval forces, which comprised the largest naval armada ever assembled. Nearly 200,000 men were transported to the shores of France by Allied ships and other craft, including the Higgins boats, which were so crucial to success at Normandy ...

All day, against heavy enemy resistance, Naval forces bravely carried a steady stream of men, supplies, and ammunition to the beaches ... returning each time with the wounded.

The successful invasion of the heavily fortified beaches and cliffs was only possible with the massive fire support provided by the amphibious fleet assembled just off shore.

History will certainly record and the world will long remember the many contributions and sacrifices made by naval forces that day ...

Major General Leonard Gerow summed it up well after going ashore to set up V Corps headquarters following the successful invasion. His first message to General Bradley, the Commander of all American ground forces on D-Day, was: "Thank God for the United States Navy!"

The Invasion was an unimaginable undertaking ... And, what makes it even more incredible is the realization that many of the young men were 18 or 19 years old ... they were new to the Service ... and had never experienced even a moment of combat before that day at Normandy. Now ... suddenly ... they were a part of the most complex and consequential amphibious operation in history.

A young Lieutenant aboard USS Bayfield, the flagship for the Utah Beach landings, described the noise of D-Day as being like "the fireworks display of a thousand Fourth of Julys rolled into one." (1)

The weather conditions were poor ... Many of the young men were made horribly sick by the churning seas . …