Good afternoon and welcome to everyone here:
Your Excellency Mr. Lucien Weiler Marshal of the Court
Ms. Simone Beissel Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies
Mr. Félix Braz Minister of Justice
Mr. George Wivenes President of the Council of State
Ms. Lydie Polfer Mayor of Luxembourg City
Mrs. Marilynn Rustand Lieurance, whose father lies buried right behind me,
Veterans, active service members, and families,
Distinguished members of the diplomatic community,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Welcome to the American Military Cemetery and to our day of remembrance. This is my first Memorial Day here in Luxembourg so it is a very special day for me and my wife, Kathleen whose father served in the United States Army and in the United States Air Force.
We gather here today, as countless others have done every year here in Hamm, Luxembourg since 1946, to honor our fallen heroes. Behind me lies the final resting place of 5,075 brave young men and one brave young woman who died in the service of our country — — — for the freedom of this beautiful country — and, indeed, for all of Europe.
As we look out across the rows and rows of white, marble crosses and stars, It is important to remember that each one represents an actual person – someone who had family and friends waiting for him back home, someone who had made promises he intended to keep, and someone who undoubtedly had hopes and dreams for tomorrow.
As you are all aware, the great American General, George Patton, is buried here. Patton’s heroism is legendary — he led the relief of beleaguered American troops during the Battle of the Bulge, disengaging six divisions from front line combat during the middle of winter – then driving the third army north to relieve Bastogne. It was one of his most remarkable achievements of World War II.
But let me tell you about a few other men who are buried here: men whom you have never heard of.
There is Adolph Ravitz. Adolph was born in Great Britain after his father, a Jewish Ukrainian, had immigrated to England and married a British woman. He was only a small boy when the family packed up and moved to the United States. They settled in Boston, in my home state of Massachusetts. In 1941, at age 19 young Adolph enlisted in the U.S. military and became an instructor in the National Guard before being deployed to Europe.; He was one of the Rangers who landed at Normandy on D-Day, fought his way across France, and eventually made his way to Luxembourg, where was killed within about a mile or two of the very spot we are standing on today.
Charles Gottsman was also from my home state of Massachusetts. His father had emigrated from Germany and married a young woman from Boston, Eva Coulter. When he was only 19 years old, Charles enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served with Battery ‘C’ on a B-17 bomber repair base in Norfolk, England before joining Patton’s 3rd army in France for Operation Cobra, and later he was assigned to the 320th Infantry regiment. He was killed in action on January 12, 1945 in heavy fighting around Harlange.
Then there is Francis Rippinger, whose grandparents emigrated from Luxembourg to the United States and settled in Illinois. Francis worked as a machinist before joining the National Guard in 1941. On the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, December 17, Francis’ squadron was given the mission to clear an area of heavy woods near Beaufort – not so very far from here. When German snipers ambushed his squad, Francis was killed. He is buried behind me in the land of his grandparents.
Ravitz, Rippinger and Gottsman never knew each other but they had something in common that is distinctively American: They were the all children of immigrants. Their forbearers had left their homeland for America and the hope of a better life. One can only imagine the pain of their parents and grandparents, knowing their son had died to liberate the continent they had left.
The stories of these men tell the story of America – we are a country of immigrants. I think President Obama put it best when he said, “Immigration is at the core of our national character. It is our oldest tradition. It is who we are. It is what makes us exceptional.”
But these men were more than just the children of American immigrants. Like Patton, they were also heroes. You may never have heard of them . . . . but they had family and friends. They had promises to keep. They had hopes and dreams.
I recently read a letter from the daughter of one soldier who was killed in the Battle of Bulge and I think she sums up the sacrifice – and the character – of not just men like Ravitz, Rippinger and Gottsman, but of all those who are buried in this hallowed ground. Her name was Patricia and she wrote about her father:
“By the world’s standards, my father lived a simple and uncomplicated life . . . . He never accomplished any great feats that would receive acclaim; except [he laid down his life for his country. What greater thing could a man do?”]
So today, we come together in this beautiful place, as others gather in American cemeteries abroad, and across the United States, to remind one another that we have not forgotten, and that we are still proud of the men and women who served their country so valiantly. We are so grateful that through all these years the people of the Grand Duchy have continued to lovingly watch over and pay tribute to the brave Americans who stayed behind.
God bless our servicemen and women around the world today, God bless Luxembourg, and God bless America.