The Boys of Pointe du Hoc

Monday was the 67th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy, “D-Day”. National Review Online reminded us that it is also, therefore, the 27th anniversary of the speech Ronald Reagan gave on the 40th anniversary of the landings, “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc”.

What struck me in reading the text of the speech (which you can also watch below), was the strong religious language in it

What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought — or felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.”

Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

Can you imagine President Obama giving that speech? Or even President Bush? How about presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty?

The question always arises though, was this sincere religious belief—civil and personal religion, if not institutional religion— or was this acting?

I remember Ronald Reagan as president, but just barely. Being born in 1981, my earliest strongly political memories are of the 1988 presidential election. But working after college as a research assistant on a biography of Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, I got to know the man, to the extent one can from reading books, as I got to read all the major biographies, many of the memoirs written by administration figures, and some other books like the excellent and important Reagan in His Own Hand. My verdict from that study was that this is not just great speechwriting (by Peggy Noonan), but that these religious sentiments were parts of Reagan’s true self.

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