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Clinton Leads Fort Meyer Commemoration of V-E Day

By Sam Fulwood III
Los Angeles Times
ARLINGTON, Va.

President Clinton, in V-E Day ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery and nearby Fort Myer Monday, praised every Allied World War II veteran as "a hero who carried the banner of justice into the battle for freedom."

As the flags flying under a cloudless, azure sky at Fort Myer snapped , Clinton offered reverent words for those he called "freedom's warriors" - whose blood and lives forced Nazi Germany's military leaders to surrender in the early morning hours of May 7 in a small schoolhouse in France. The armistice took effect May 8, 1945, triggering street celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

"We come today 50 years later to recall their triumph, to remember their sacrifice and to rededicate ourselves to the ideals for which they fought and for which so many of them died," Clinton said, after being introduced by retired Air Force Col. Frederick B. McIntosh, who flew 104 missions during the war, including dive-bomb raids on D-Day. "Because of all you did, we live in a moment of hope, in a nation at peace."

Clinton, as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, began the day of memorials with a stop at the Tomb of the Unknowns in the national military cemetery here. To the rumble of a military drum roll and the bursts of a 21-gun salute, Clinton walked stiffly as he placed a large wreath against the white, marble tombs. A bugler played taps and Clinton, who did not serve in the armed forces, saluted by placing his right hand over his heart.

Before speaking at Fort Myer, the president, who has had rocky relations with the military in the past, was greeted with a standing ovation by a respectful group of veterans, military officials and active-duty representatives from every branch of the armed services.

He listed the achievements and contributions of many seated in the reviewing stands at Sommerall Field on this Army base outside Washington: Robert Katayama, a private with the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team that broke through the Gothic Line in Italy after five months of ferocious assault; Anna Connelly Wilson, a nurse in the Iranian desert; Abben MaGuire, a Navy demolition expert who landed on Omaha Beach; George Ellers, a seaman on Coast Guard boats that protected the movement of supplies across the Atlantic Ocean; Joseph Kahoe, a lieutenant with the all-African American 761st tank battalion during the Battle of the Bulge; and finally, the Rev. Francis Sampson, an Army chaplain who parachuted into Normandy and Holland.

"In their bravery and that of all their brothers and sisters in arms, America found the will to defeat the forces of fascism," Clinton said in his 16-minute speech. "And today, we the sons and daughters of their sacrifice, say thank you and well done."

Clinton referred to today's threats from international conflicts and domestic terrorism by noting that there was one thing even the courageous World War II veterans could not do: "banish the forces of darkness from the future. We confront them now in different forms all around the world, and painfully, here at home."

But, he said, the World War II generation "taught us the most important lesson: that we can prevail over the forces of darkness, that we must prevail."

During his remarks, Clinton also acknowledged Americans who didn't serve in combat for their "all-consuming effort" toward the Allied victory.

"Millions were heroes here on the home front," he said. "They built the planes, the ships, the tanks, the trucks that carried the Allied armies into battle. They bought victory bonds to pay for the war. They collected scarp metal for weapons, worn-out rubber for tires, leftover fat for explosives and they planted 20 million victory gardens to help feed the nation."

Clinton also paid special tribute to the peoples of Great Britain and the former Soviet Union.

He said that Americans were not eager to enter the war, but "were stirred by the extraordinary courage of the British, all alone and carrying liberty's flickering torch into Europe's darkening night. Pushed by their passion for freedom, prodded by the wise leadership of President Roosevelt, and provoked, finally, by the infamy at Pearl Harbor, Americans went to war."

Clinton - who after his speech flew to Moscow to participate in Russia's commemoration of V-E day and to hold meetings with Russian President Boris Yeltsin - also noted the terrible toll the war took on the Soviet people.

When news of the war's end reached Moscow, he said, millions of people rushed into the streets in a celebratory frenzy, search lights slashed the night darkness and a 1,000-gun salute shook the countryside.

"But their joy was dulled by the pain of their nation's unique sacrifice, for one out of every eight Soviet citizens was killed in World War II: 27 million people," Clinton said, his voice lowering for emphasis. "At almost every table in every (Russian) home there was an empty place."

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Volume 115, Number 24.
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