This Memorial Day, many of us will gather together with family and friends to usher in the unofficial start of summer. We will do so under a blanket of peace, security, and freedom. Those blessings are bought with a price. For some Americans, Memorial Day will begin with a visit to a cemetery or a monument to celebrate the life of someone who paid that price, who died fighting for our country.
This nation is built on their sacrifice, and we see the legacy of their victories throughout our history. The men and women of our Armed Forces we honor today challenged the greatest empire the world has ever seen and won this country its independence. They preserved a union and gave our nation a new birth of freedom. They saved Europe from the shadow of fascism and the world from the crushing hand of Communism. They have stood against terror and kept our cities safe. Now we must work to make sure we never forget these sacrifices.
Recently, I cosponsored legislation with Senator Brown to honor with the Congressional Gold Medal the World War II heroes known as the Doolittle Raiders. Not enough Americans are aware of the incredible story of these men.
It was April 1942, and the nation was still reeling from the attacks on Pearl Harbor. What most Americans did not know was that an audacious plan was underway to strike back at the Empire of Japan. Sixteen bombers with eighty crewmen took off from an aircraft carrier deep in Japanese-controlled territory. All of them knew it would be a one-way trip—the bombers barely had enough fuel to reach Japan. But they went anyway, and when they dropped their bombs on enemy soil, they shattered the myth of Japanese invincibility, and they restored hope to the American people.
One aircrew landed in the Soviet Union, most of the rest abandoned their aircraft over China. Eleven died during the process—of those, three were executed by the Japanese. All of them are heroes. They deserve our gratitude, and this award—which will be housed at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton—will serve as a token of appreciation to the four living Doolittle Raiders and ensure that their service is not forgotten.
I also recently re-introduced legislation that would add to the World War II Memorial the words that President Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed with the nation on June 6, 1944 following the D-Day landings. It would recall those harrowing hours when the fate of the world hung in the balance. That evening, as American forces were struggling to maintain their perilous beachheads on the Normandy shore, Franklin D. Roosevelt prayed for our soldiers in harm’s way, saying,
…They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest—until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom….
These words echo down through the years. They are timeless, and they apply to the men and women who fight for us today, to all those who lay down their lives for the cause of liberty. On this Memorial Day we remember them, and we recommit ourselves to ensuring that those selfless heroes who die for this country are never forgotten.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.