Elizabeth L. Dibble, Chargé d’Affaires a.i.
Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial: May 25, 2014
Deputy Lord Lieutenant, General Bence, Deputy Mayor, distinguished members of the armed services, representatives of veterans’ organizations. To any veterans and military families who are here, to our British friends, and to my fellow Americans.
I can think of no more fitting place to be on Memorial Day weekend than here – in the front ranks of all who come to honor those who gave their lives for their country. It is a privilege to be here. To pause and reflect on the nobility of their sacrifice. Both of my own grandfathers saw service in World War I, one in the U.S. Navy and one in the Army.
In some respects, World War I marked the origins of what we would come to know as the special relationship. For it was the first time American and British forces had fought together on such a scale. Regrettably, of course, it was not to be the last.
And today we remember and we honor all those sons and daughters of America – selfless, patriotic men and women – who gave up their hopes and dreams that we could live out ours. Soldiers, sailors, aviators, Marines, medical staff, coastguard and civilians who answered whenever history called – and who then gave until they had nothing left to give.
Here at Brookwood we recognize in particular 1,031 ordinary men and women who faced the toughest of challenges with extraordinary devotion and determination. Our image of World War I is commonly of heavy guns, mud, trenches, and “going over the top”. But Brookwood is a profound reminder that the Great War was not only a land war.
Behind me, the 563 names carved into the Chapel walls of those never recovered from the sea. Among them, Medal of Honor recipient Gunner’s Mate First Class Osmond Ingram. A sailor who sighted a torpedo heading for the stern of his ship. Realizing that it would strike in the vicinity of the depth charges, he ran towards the danger. He ran towards the danger. Knowingly sacrificing himself in an attempt to save his shipmates.
To my left and right, the rows of white crosses and the lone Star of David, which mark the 468 souls who now rest in this hallowed ground. Forty-one whose names we still do not know. On the walls or in the soil, these fallen are an eternal symbol of our values – and the high price we are prepared to pay to preserve, protect and promote them.
The majesty of this place does them justice. There is a unique quality about military cemeteries. The way one cannot help scanning the gravestones or memorials for your own surname. The way the tranquility and beauty is so far removed from the chaos and devastation of conflict. The way the understated simplicity serves only to magnify the deeds of those honored. And on behalf of the U.S. government and the American community in Britain, I commend the outstanding work of the American Battle Monuments Commission here at Brookwood.
And right in front of me today flies the flag under which these fallen served. Although… there is an intriguing twist here at Brookwood. There are in fact 17 Americans buried in the adjacent Commonwealth War Graves having fought under the Union Flag because they wanted to serve before the U.S. entered the war. Their dedication to the British cause is the embodiment of President Obama’s invocation that “we stand together and we bleed together”.
Today, we also remember together. Because while the immediate ground is filled with American dead, our thoughts are also with those of our allies who perished and are remembered in the neighboring cemeteries here.
As a diplomat, who has lost colleagues in conflict zones, I am mindful too that in this blessed place two civilians lie alongside their colleagues in uniform. Rightly buried as equals. They were essential to the war effort. Just as their successors are crucial to our present undertakings to secure peace and freedom around the globe.
Nowhere is that more true than in Ukraine, where at this very moment our diplomats and officials are supporting the rights of Ukrainians to determine their own destiny through presidential elections. The crisis we have seen unfolding over the past few weeks is a cautionary warning that freedom is forever fragile; that it is under constant threat from aggression and intimidation; and that even in Europe the fight against oppression is not yet finished.
Much of the vital work we are doing to help Ukrainians live freely in a stable and sovereign nation is – as so often – being carried out in collaboration with the United Kingdom. Our close, strong and enduring partnership truly is the one against which all other bilateral relationships are measured. It is not the outcome of a summit. No one signed a pact or a treaty. It wasn’t negotiated as part of some agreement or accord. To use Winston Churchill’s other phrase for this partnership: it is the Unwritten Alliance. For it is nurtured from historical and contemporary ties born from shared values of liberty, democracy, the rule of law, and human dignity. These values bind us together ever more strongly and give us the confidence to build a better world.
This higher cause is what these men and women we honor here gave themselves for. What the hundreds of thousands of others being commemorated today at similar ceremonies, in similar cemeteries, across every continent did too. The sheer weight of their sacrifice is staggering. But we can take heart that they live on.
They live on in the congregation free to worship the religion of their choosing; in the protestors free to march in support of their cause; and in the voter free to speak out and hold his government accountable. And it is from them that we draw the strength and inspiration to meet the formidable challenges that face our own generation. In that endeavor and in the presence of those buried or commemorated around us, we ask the support of all Americans; of our closest ally; and the blessings of God Almighty.