Below is Mr Major’s joint speech with President Bill Clinton, held at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery in Madingley on Saturday 4th June 1994.
We are here today to remember the Servicemen from America and Britain, from Canada and other Commonwealth and Allied countries who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom. As Winston Churchill reached the end of his own long life he encompassed their achievement with these words: “Our comradeship and brotherhood in war were unexampled, we stood together and because of that fact the free world stands”.
Brotherhood was a word Churchill often used for friendship between the English-speaking peoples. On the very eve of D-Day he wrote to President Roosevelt of an absolute brotherhood between the forces. That spirit has served our countries valiantly over the intervening 50 years, in war and in peace. It is rooted in trust. And to quote Churchill again: “In common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all the love of personal freedom.”
It is especially the brotherhood of airmen to airmen, soldier to soldier and sailor to sailor that we commemorate at this time. Here in Britain 50 years ago approaching D-Day there were over 1.5 million Americans on active service under the command of General Eisenhower.
For a while every 30th person in Britain was an American Serviceman. In the European theatre more than 150,000 Americans, including 57,000 airmen, lost their lives. Nearly 4,000 of them, mostly young men who flew extremely dangerous missions, lie here in this Garden of Remembrance in the midst of the English countryside. Over 5,000 more are commemorated in the Wall of the Missing. Among them are a few who achieved fame, some who surely, had they lived, would have been destined for fame, many who were less well known and some who are unknown warriors. All their lives were cruelly cut short and to them all of us owe a debt too deep to pay.
Some of you here today will have come to Madingley to remember close relatives, you will have endured the life-long pain of losing those that you loved. Some here today will be honouring the memory of wartime comrades, you too ran the same risks, you too were ready to make the same sacrifice. To all of you I offer the very warmest of welcomes.
We remember today why those lives were given. Those who came here from America were not as we were, protecting their homes and families, America was not under direct threat from Europe, they did not come here for national glory, not for profit, not for material gain, they came, many of you here today came, above all to defend the values which Britons and Americans hold sacred, to defend freedom and democracy, justice and human rights, to help liberate the people of Europe from tyranny and to seek to build a better world thereafter.
President Franklin Roosevelt wrote out for Churchill some lines from Longfellow which summed this up: “Humanity with all its fears, with all its hopes of future years, is hanging breathless on my fate.”
Throughout the joint efforts of all the allies, the fate of Western Europe was resolved for the better in 1944 and 1945. But that mission did not end in 1945, we have continued since to work together for our common values in the United Nations and in the Atlantic Alliance. We have had to make further sacrifices, some very recently. In the Gulf War, for example, among those buried here is an American Serviceman from that combined action; or in United Nations peace-keeping operations, in many parts of the world; and the courage and the selflessness which you and all of your wartime comrades showed half a century ago are still vital in today’s troubled world.
Mr President, there could be no more fitting time, or I believe place or company for your first official visit to the United Kingdom. On behalf of all my fellow citizens I would like to thank you and your fellow Americans for your friendship and your unstinting support throughout the last 50 years and more.
Whenever the going has been hardest, Britons and Americans have stood together in unity of belief. The peoples of Europe owe their freedom and their peace to those we honour this weekend, both the living and the fallen. Here today at this tranquil memorial and a thousand more generations to come will give thanks for all that they did to give us this peaceful today.
Mr Prime Minister, Mrs Major, Mr McLean, Chaplain, Secretary Bentsen, thank you for your fine remarks, to our British hosts and to all the distinguished Americans who are also here, members of the Congress, the administration, the armed forces, we have come here today, all of us, on a journey of remembrance.
For some, as for Secretary Bentsen, it was a journey to replace time, to go back fifty summers and more, when they took to airfields like these. For others it is a journey to honour those who fought and those who died for the world in which we came of age.
At this moment all of us are joined in a sense of pride, in a sense of indebtedness, a sense of wonder and a sense of determination to carry on that work and never to forget. On these ancient grounds 3,812 Americans are buried, airmen, soldiers and sailors. More than 5,000 others are remembered on the Wall of the Missing. The names of some we honour echo still in our nation’s memory, names like Joseph Kennedy Jr, the brother of our late President, a young man for whom a distinguished political career was predicted but who gave his life for our country. Or Glen Miller whose wonderful moonlight serenades soothe the savage world and still make us tap our feet.
In death all these people on the wall and buried behind us were equal, they came from every state of the union, they were of many races and religions, they had names like Koreo, Kaufman and Wood, they were all of them American. They fought to defeat a great evil which threatened to destroy our very way of life, what Winston Churchill called the great principles of freedom in the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English speaking world. For long months Britain bravely carried that fight on alone. In the Battle of Britain, night after frightful night, the people of this besieged island withstood the fierce attacks of Nazi bombers, it was their finest hour.
Amid the horror the British looked West for help. Then the Yanks came, deepening one of history’s profoundest bonds. Overnight it seemed tens of thousands of GIs filled the streets and cafes across southern England. All these years later we find the memories of many of them still very vivid – smiling GI’s tossing packs of spearmint gum to British schoolboys, new faces and funny accents at the corner pub, lindy hops in London, kids from Milwaukee invited in for high tea, allied uniforms filling the pews at British churches.
America gave to England an infusion of arms and men and material. The British gave our troops the feeling that they were not so far from home after all. The British gave us inspiration, the Americans gave in return hope. At every level Yanks and Brits worked together like family.
American intelligence services built on Britain’s brilliant successes which were here chronicled in breaking the German codes; General Eisenhower chose British Marshals to be his deputies, of course Montgomery and Ramsay and Tetter. Roosevelt and Churchill, even as they led the assault on tyranny and rallied their own people to support the crusade encouraged each other with personal notes. All shared a sense of kinship that sustained them through the darkest moments of the war, all shared a faith that our people, nurtured on freedom, would rise to the call of history.
Nowhere was our bond more important than in the air war launched from the green fields like this one. The Royal Air Force and the Army Air Corps joined in countless sorties to cripple the Luftwaffe, to desolate the Nazi war machine, to soften the Atlantic wall. One British citizen remembered for 1,000 days the sky was never still.
It was some of the most dangerous work of the war and the tales of valour still amaze us all. Pilots going down with burning flames to give all the rest of the crew just a few more seconds to get out, or the two crew members who shared the only parachute left on board as they jumped together from their burning plane over England. The Marauders, Liberators, Mustangs and Flying Fortresses, the Halifaxes and Mosquitos, they were all sturdy, but as one American remembered, the flack sometimes seemed so thick you could walk on it, the wild blue yonder above Europe could quickly turn cold and grey and lethal.
In just the two months before D-Day the allied forces lost over 2,000 planes and over 12,000 men. Because of their sacrifice by 6 June 1944 the allies owned the air. Under the shield of that air supremacy our ships cross the channel, our men crossed the beaches. A few days after the Normandy landing General Eisenhower stood on the beaches of France with his young son, John, recently a graduate of West Point, and told him: “If I did not have the air supremacy, I would not be here.” After D-Day the Air Corps continued to fly towards freedom’s horizon until the entire continent was reclaimed and a world was set free.
The victory of the generation we honour today came at a high cost, it took many lives and much perseverance. After D-Day it took freedom another year to reach the Elba, it took another 44 years to reach Warsaw and Prague and East Berlin. And now it has reached Kiev and Moscow and even beyond. The mission of this time to secure and expand its reach further.
The airmen who flew these skies had a ritual, as Secretary Vincent mentioned, for signalling to their comrades on the ground at the end of a mission. If they were coming in for landing, if they fired off a red flare it meant there were casualties aboard, and if they fired off a green flare it meant some lucky pilot had just completed his last mission before shipping out. Well the generation that won the Second World War completed their mission, whether they walk among us or lie among us today. And after looking down in sorrow at those who paid the ultimate price, let us lift our eyes to the skies in which they flew, the ones they once commanded, and let us send to them a signal, a signal of our own, a signal that we do remember, that we do honour and that we shall always carry on the work of these nights born on wings. May God bless them and all our people.