tv D- Day A Celebration of Heroes MSNBC June 6, 2014 2:30am-3:01am PDT
th america to southeast asia, 70 years of democratic movement spread. and nations that once knew only the blinders of fear began to taste the blessings of freedom. none of that would have happened without the men who were willing to lay down their lives from people they've never met. and ideals they couldn't live without. none of it would have. haed without the troops president roosevelt called the lifeblood of america, the hope of the world. -- left home barely more than boys. and returned home heroes. but to their great credit that is not how this generation -- after the war, some put away their medals.
were quiet about their service, moved on. some carrying shrapnel and scars found -- was much harder. many like my grandfather who served in patton's army lived a quiet life trading one uniform and set of responsibilities for another. as a teacher or a salesman or a doctor or an engineer a dad, a grandpa. our country made sure millions of them earned a college education, opening up opportunity on an unprecedented scale. they married those sweethearts and bought new homes and raised families and built businesses lifting up the greatest middle class the world has ever known. and through it all, they were
inspired, i suspect, by memories of fallen brothers memories that drove them to live their lives each day as best they possibly could. whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men. whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men. think of wilson caldwell who was told he couldn't pilot a plane without a high school degree so he decided to jump out of a plane instead. and he did here on d-day, with the 101st airborne when he was just 16 years old. think of harry kulkowitz, the jewish son of russian immigrants who fudged his age so he could join his friends in the fight. and don't worry, harry, the statute of limitations has
expired. harry came ashore at utah beach on d-day. and now that he's come back we said he could have anything he wants for lunch today. he helped liberate this coast, after all. he said a hamburger will do fine. what's more american than that? think of rock merritt who saw a recruitment poster asking him if he was man enough to be a paratrooper, so he signed up on the spot. and that decision landed him here on d-day with the 508th regiment a unit that would suffer heavy casualties. and 70 years later, it's said that all across ft. bragg, they know rock. not just for his exploits on d-day or his 35 years in the army but because 91-year-old rock merritt still spends his time speaking to the young men and women of today's army.
and still bleeds o.d. green for his 82nd airborne. whenever the world makes you cynical cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible, stop and think of these men. wilson and harry and rock they are here today. and although i know we already gave them a rousing round of applause along with all veterans of d-day, if you can stand, please stand. if for the, please raise your hand. let us recognize your service once more. these men waged war so that we might know peace. they sacrificed so that we might be free. they fought in hopes of a day when we'd no longer need to fight. we are grateful to them.
and gentlemen, gentlemen, i want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands. for in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor this generation of americans a new generation, our men and women of war have chosen to do their part as well. rock, i want you to know that staff sergeant melvin martin who is here today is following in your footsteps. he just had to become an american first. because melvin was born in honduras, moved to the united states joined the army.
after tours in iraq and afghanistan, he was reassigned to the 82nd airborne. and sunday he'll parachute into normandy normandy. i became part of a family of real american heroes he said the paratroopers of the 82nd. wilson you should know that specialist janice rodriguez joined the army not even two years ago, was assigned to the 101st airborne and just last month earned the title of the air assault soldier of the year. and that's inspiring but not surprising when the women of today's military have taken on responsibilities including combat like never before. i want each of you to know that their commitment to their fellow service members and veterans
sergeant 1st class brian hawthorne's grandfather served under general patton and general macarthur. brian himself served two tours in iraq earned the bronze star in baghdad for saving the life of his best friend and today he and his wife use their experience to help other veterans and military families navigate theirs. and brian's here in normandy to participate in sunday's jump. and here just yesterday, he reenlisted in the army reserve. in this generation this 9/11 generation of service members, they, too, felt something. they answered some call. they said, i will go. they, too, chose to serve a cause that's greater than self. many even after they knew they'd be sent into harm's way. and for more than a decade they have endured tour after tour. sergeant 1st class rory remsberg has served ten. and i've told corey's incredible story before most recently when he sat with my wife michelle,
at the state of the union address. it was here at omaha beach on the 65th anniversary of d-day where i first met corey and his fellow army rangers right after they made their own jump into normandy. the next time i saw him, he was in the hospital unable to speak or walk after an ied nearly killed him in afghanistan. but over the past five years, corey has grown stronger, learning to speak again and stand again and walk again. and earlier this year he jumped out of a plane again. and the first words corey said to me after his accident echoed those words first shouted all those years ago on this beach, "rangers, lead the way." corey has come back today along with melvin and janice and brian and many of their fellow
active-duty service members. we thank them for their service. they are a reminder that the tradition represented by these gentlemen continues. we are on this earth for only a moment in time. and fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of d-day did here 70 years ago. as i was landing on marine one, i told my staff, i don't think there's a time where i miss my grandfather more where i'd be more happy to have him here than this day. so we have to tell their stories for them. we have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that
they were prepared to die for. we have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it. and as today's wars come to an end, this generation of service men and women will step out of uniform, and they too, will build families and lives of their own. they, too, will become leaders in their communities in commerce and industry and perhaps politics, the leaders we need for the beach heads of our time. and god willing, they too, will grow old in the land they helped to keep free. and someday, future generations whether 70 or 700 years hence will gather at places like this to honor them. and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the united states of america is and will remain the greatest force
for freedom the world has ever known. may god bless our veterans and all who serve with them including those who rest here in eternal peace and may god bless all who serve today for the peace and security of the world. may god bless the people of france and may god bless our united states of america. >> a beautiful and poignant speech there delivered by the president of the united states there on that hallowed ground of the american military cemetery in normandy where so many thousands are buried who gave their lives on this day, some 70 years ago on d-day. and as i welcome back mike barnicle barnicle, tom brokaw and andrea mitchell i think a speech takes the largest of an event like this, but you boil it down to the small details, those people
and those personal stories that you can take away and really grasp the meaning of how this affected their lives it's what i loved, in particularly about your piece, tom, with frank da davita. i feel like i got to know this man and how this shaped his life in the 70 years since. i think it was a great speech delivered by president obama there. >> you know it's very difficult for a president or anyone for that matter to put into words what we owe these people and what they did. they do the best job, frankly, of being personal witness and the impact that it had on their lives and how much we owe them. the line that you have just below the screen we have to tell these veterans' stories for them. and if you become cynical because of the world think of all that they went through. this was a day of unaloyed courage and extraordinary
military genius. and after that it's very hard to find words or even emotions that 70 years later can encapsulate it mike. the event speaks for itself in so many ways. >> you know, given the tenor of the times and incredible feats that occurred here 70 years ago, perhaps the most important aspect of the president's speech were those words that you just mentioned. we have to tell their stories for them, alex. >> yeah. >> i think we have something coming up here. >> we do. we're going to have a 21-gun salute and that's always powerful to listen to. as that gets under way, we will do that. it will be foped edfollowed by "taps." let's take a listen. [ 21-gun salute ]
>> that never ceases to impress, a military flyover, nor does it ever cease to i think, haunt the mournful tunes there of "taps." you've got to think that there were a few veterans there that may be moved to tears hearing that because they no doubt heard that "taps" being played far too many times around the d-day invasion. >> ladies and gentlemen, please remain at your seats while president hollande and president obama thank veterans then move to the observation point of omaha beach. >> as we hear a bit of the details for those in attendance there at the ceremony. i'll go back to you, andrea and mike and tom. so your interpretation of this event. i mean here we are 70 years on and now we know these two gentlemen will move on from their omaha beach perch, certainly our president will be heading over to sword beach.
sword beach was a place where the brits fought so valiantly in particular. they were the ones i believe, in the lead at sword beach, were they not? >> they were. and in fact alex that is where the international commemoration will take place. that is where the other leaders will be. that is where putin and the new president of ukraine, about to be sworn in will have their first meeting if they do shake hands. there's going to be a lot of contemporary drama there. i was just thinking being here with tom especially and mike that presidents did not address this commemoration here on d-day until ronald reagan. that eisenhower went to camp david in 1954 because he thought it would be too boastful to show up back here the scene of his greatest achievement militarily that lbj did not want to go outside of the country right after the assassination. for a year he didn't travel overseas. nixon was completely absorbed
as tom knows better than anyone having covered the white house in those years, and so it was left to ronald reagan as the cold war was beginning to come to an end. not quite yet, to give the big speech, the speech of his life i think, by peggy noonan here where he said you are the voice and evoked i think for the first time to contemporary americans the images and the drama that led, tom, to a lot of your thinking. >> well, and veterans at that point in their lives still had a lot of vitality. they were at that stage in their life, they were in their 70s, and they had these lives as lawyers and doctors and educators and as businessmen. and they could look back not just on d-day, but they could look back on their complete lives at that point. and so i think the country was prepared to come to the realization of what we've been through. there's growing interest in world war ii. in my own simple analysis is
that it was the largest event in the history of mankind. there had never been any like it. i hope there will never be anything like it again. and it's so dependent on every individual however ordinary they may have been and it was hand to hand. now we have nuclear wars and drones, and it's a different kind of war that we have going on. and we were fighting against the kind of fascism and a deranged man that almost defies description with the holocaust and his appetite for power and his determination to be the ruler of the world. so it's hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the event itself. and that came together i think, beginning in 1994 and it's played out ever since. and now new generations are looking back and thinking oh my god. you couldn't capture that in 140 characters in a tweet. >> you know i would hope that they would be thinking that because in the earlier years,
you know this was before for lack of a better phrase a cultural amnesia did not victimize america. >> right. >> now we make all of these instantaneous judgments and observations, sometimes woefully wrong, tweeting texting, blogging. president obama said something that we ought to consider thinking about when he said we have to tell their stories for them. we have to make this a permanent part of the united states history that we seldom think about. alex? >> you know something? i just wanted to give you, news anchor that i am here a perspective. i don't know that it's gone unnoticed that yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the death of president reagan. and nancy reagan -- >> i remember well. >> yes, we all do. and nancy reagan was actually seeing a very rare glimpse into her very private life now. she apparently went to the simile valley library there where the president was laid to rest and paid a very public
visit there. of course she is much more frail and is not often seen in public. it calls to mind. you remember that day nearly ten years ago now when there was that procession through southern california snaking through into the simi valley resting place and all of those people that were gathered along the sidelines of the los angeles freeways to bear witness to that event as president reagan made it to his final resting place. but i can't believe that's been almost ten years. >> alex stand by for a name drop. i was giving a dinner that night for two of the people who landed on d-day. one of the boys also steven spielberg and tom hanks had come over. i think steven got the legion of honor at that time. at the end of the table, jimmy buffett who is an old friend and he's kind of my forrest gump. he was going to be performing at versailles and he said i know you'll have a dinner, brokaw so i'm going to show up and he did. we were having a wonderful time
and andy rooney was there. late in the evening, my assistant whispered in my ear, "ronald reagan just died." and we raised a glass to the president and said to the president and talked about the evening. and andy rooney called me later and said brokaw that might have been the best dinner i've ever been to. >> thanks for inviting me. >> sorry. >> and then of course tom had to get on a plane and come back and prepare to cover the funeral. >> right. i had to go and do that. >> yeah. you and your stories, tom, they're priceless. they're great. i don't know andrea though can match you and so can mike barnicle especially if you get him going about boston but that's another story. that was a good story. >> actually alex yesterday, last evening, i went down there specifically to see rue robert murphy. it's a little side alley in the village square made famous by the paratroopers getting caught up in the spires of the church
in the village square. and robert murphy was a 20-year-old pathfinder 82nd airborne jumped into didn't mean to jump there, but the wind had blown them off course in the early morning hours of 6 june 1944, 20 years of age, and helped liberate that small town and, of course france with the other troopers and the soldiers. robert murphy boston, massachusetts. >> and there were 13,000 paratroopers who went in in the predawn hours, many from the 82nd and the 101st. and they glided behind enemy lines and were supposed to prepare the battlefield. they did not know what they were about to encounter. and we see the president now, alex, as you have a better vantage than we do actually of the president now talking to those veterans. >> these guys are 90 years old, 93 years old. they are in great shape.
some of them obviously still have some trouble with mobility. by the way, i was just visited briefly here by pasquale vong and i am saying this openly. there's a new film out called "d-day." it's a french-produced imax 3-d all-digital film. it will be showing up in museums and science museums across the country. it will premiere in washington. you can see it at the air and space museum if you go there. it's also being shown in seattle and houston and other places. pasquale did this as a gift to the american people. and those of us who have been looking at d-day for a long time were astonished at what he was able to really give as a present to the country because you see the clarity of what was at stake because of the digital ability to show the landscape and show what the german positions were and then to fill the channel with these digital ships and the skies with the digital airplanes. so that is something that will play beyond the anniversaries.
and if it comes to your community, it really is worth seeing. >> and to your point, these guys in their vim and vigor, i believe it was you, tom, who spoke with a paratrooper who wanted to jump out of a plane and commemorate the 70th anniversary, you know some 70 years on because his pride just wanted to say he could do it. i mean who does that? these guys are remarkable. >> he kept saying to me i don't want to go tandem. i want to go on my own. i said, tom, you can barely get out of the chair here. >> well several of them did, though. >> yeah. yes. >> we had several americans and a scotsman yesterday, two of them were 89. one was in his 90s. doing it again 70 years later. >> well that is extraordinary, to say the least. what an extraordinary day. final thoughts to the three of you as we wrap up? >> well you know i think what the president said and what mike repeated is that we have to continue to tell their stories. and it's been encouraging to me
quite honestly is a lot of communities and schools are saying to the children go find those members of your family who are still alive. get their life story. i hear from a lot of veterans or from their family members saying we'd like to do something. i say self-publish something. get it all down. record it. then go to kinko's or one of those places and get it published and share it with your family because it really is a keepsake that should be treasured for a long time. >> yeah. >> and the president is now going into the crowd, alex. it's just such a privilege to be here with all of you and with the great tom brokaw. >> oh absolutely. i echo those sentiments absolutely. and at the risk of showing up my friend, mike i'm going to say -- [ speaking in french ] which just said i will see you soon, my friends, and have a good day. my work is done for this day. thank you so much for joining us. i'm alex witt. stay with us for more of our special coverage of the 70th anniversary of the d-day invasion next on "morning joe."
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whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible, stop and think of these men. these men waged war so that we might know peace. they sacrificed so that we might be free. they fought in hopes of a day when we'd no longer longer need to fight. we are grateful to them. gentlemen, i want each of you to know your legacy is in good hands. in a time it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of americans, a new generation our men and women of war, have chosen to do their part as well. 70 years ago today 160,000 allied troops storpd a heavily storpd stormed a heavily fortified beach. aircraft bombarding nazi positions in wave after wave. the cost was