Memorial Day is the day we set aside to remember our fallen heroes – those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.
On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I was honored to deliver a speech (in French, below the English translation) to the townsfolk of Incarville, France. Though my words pay homage to FLt. Thomas Smith, I wish to extend my gratitude to all American service men and women who paid the ultimate price.
Good Afternoon Mr. Mayor, Mr. Prefect, Mr. Portier, Ladies, and Gentlemen.
When I was asked to speak today, I wondered what I could say that would rise to the level of this occasion. A man gave his life here for the sake of others, and even if words are inadequate, I will do my best to honor First Lt. Thomas P. Smith, Jr. with the only tool at my disposal.
Who was FLt. Thomas Smith? He was a pilot in the 322nd Bomber Squadron, 91st Bomber Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps who entered the Corps from the state of Illinois. During his career he was awarded the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart. It is here in Incarville that he died after his B-17 Bomber crashed on the 13th of August, 1944. He is interred at Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. He was a son, a husband, a soldier, a hero.
The greatest picture that we hold of FLt. Smith is that he sacrificed his life to liberate France from the firm clutches of fascism. But for him, liberty was not just an abstract ideal for which he was fighting – he embodied the virtues of service, altruism, and self-sacrifice in order to spare the very real lives of his crew members and the citizens of Incarville.
I am always reminded of the poem “To the Stonecutters” by American poet Robinson Jeffers when I reflect on the meaning of a monument such as this one dedicated to FLt. Smith. In Jeffers’ poem, the artisans who carve memorials into stone are called “challengers of oblivion.” Though we will all join FLt. Smith one day in eternal repose, our thoughts can, indeed, find in this monument the “honey peace” of which Jeffers spoke. Time can never erase FLt. Smith’s heroic deed, for we are living legacies of his sacrifice.
On behalf of Americans stateside and abroad, I would like to thank Mr. Mayor, Mr. Prefect, Mr. Pierre Portier, and all the people of Incarville for challenging oblivion by erecting this monument in honor of FLt. Smith’s sacrifice for the cause of freedom. Liberty – our source of strength – is a value shared by the French and Americans alike.