It is an honor to participate in the commemoration of one of America’s most solemn of holidays – Memorial Day. Every year, the United States takes pause on this day to remember all our military members who gave their lives in defense of our freedom, and this year has added significance as it coincides with the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, which marked the end of World War Two. Standing here, in the North Africa American Cemetery, is a poignant reminder of the incalculable costs paid to protect not only American freedom but also that of our allies.
President John F. Kennedy perhaps best captured the American sentiment toward defending freedom in his 1961 Inaugural Address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”[i]
This cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of unremarkable Americans who showed remarkable courage and fortitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, and we honor them today. They served throughout the African and the Middle Eastern areas of operations for the duration of World War II, but predominantly across North Africa, with many falling here in Tunisia. This historic site among the ruins of ancient Carthage is significant for many reasons, not least of which is the battle for Tunisia. This battle was the turning point of the North Africa campaign and ultimately the entire war, paving the way for the subsequent Allied liberation of Europe.
President Habib Bourguiba aptly voiced our unending sentiments of gratefulness and respect in his letter at the dedication of the North Africa American Cemetery: “Please accept…the expression of my deep sympathy for the relatives of those who have sacrificed so much for the sake of freedom and for the prevalence of universal brotherhood among peoples and relations binding them together. May God Almighty help all men of good will persevere in their endeavor towards this noble cause.”[ii]
The United States and Tunisia have both paid a heavy price for our freedoms. Our countries are strong partners and together and we must remain committed to our ideals, our democracy, and to our friendship that protects both. Nowhere is more symbolic of our partnership than here at the North Africa American Cemetery. In this oasis of peace and tranquility, we stand on Tunisian soil that eternally embraces and keeps so many Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace and freedom. Let us rigorously protect this partnership.
Despite an ongoing global pandemic that closes this cemetery to the public, we uphold our commitment to honor each of those memorialize in this cemetery with this small dignified commemoration. To those who have gone before us, to those who have sacrificed themselves for a noble cause, to those who gave their lives for peace – We Remember You.
[ii] Original letter hanging in the North Africa American Cemetery Visitor’s Center.