6 June 2009
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
Sixty-five years ago today on this stretch of beach, code named Juno, Canadian soldiers undertook what would turn out to be one of the most defining operations of our proud military history.
For the first Canadian Parachute Division, D-Day began before sunrise with hundreds of paratroopers floating down into Normandy under cover of darkness. They were followed by the 31st Canadian Mine Sweeper Flotilla, helping clearing the way for the massive allied armada to come. And finally came the men of the Third Canadian Infantry Division and the Second Canadian Armoured Brigade.
Most of us can only imagine what was going through their minds as the landing craft carried them towards the beaches and the ferocious fire of the enemy. Apprehension, anticipation, thoughts of loved ones back home, and the profound conviction that what they were doing was right and just. By sunset, Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen had pushed further inland than any other allied force. Together they had they pierced Hitler's Fortress Europe and effectively turned the tide of a war as bitter and bloody as any the world has ever known.
It is no exaggeration to say that the course of history itself changed that very day. But a triumph of this magnitude was not without sacrifice. Of the 15,000 Canadians who took part in that initial assault, nearly 1,000 were killed or wounded. And over the course of the Normandy campaign, over 5,000 Canadians paid the ultimate price. But through their bravery, skill and sheer determination, the shackles of Nazi oppression were shattered and humanity was rescued from a future of tyranny, racism and cruelty.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are all forever indebted to those who fought and died on the battlefields of Europe, and to those who supported the war effort back home in Canada. Today as we acknowledge this eternal debt to those who have served our country, we are also reminded of the gratitude we owe to those who continue to defend our values in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. Indeed the brave men and women of today's Canadian Forces are upholding the same high ideals for which our veterans fought and died on the beaches of Normandy: Freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Fellow citizens, never dismiss these things as mere abstractions. They are the very foundations upon which our lives of peace and prosperity are built. They are the very lives to which all of our fellow human beings aspire. And it is only when these values are in peril, when we have to defend them, that we can truly understand their worth. As our soldiers did here on these beaches 65 years ago.
It has been said of Canadian soldiers, and I quote, "By their heroic sacrifices they have made it a grander and worthier thing to be a Canadian." And what a grand and worthy thing it is to be a Canadian. This is the soldiers' legacy to us, a country to believe in, a country to inspire, and a country to love. Our country. Our responsibility is to protect this gift and to eternally remember those who paid so dearly for it, and for us.
Lest we forget.