Last month, our country lost a great stateswoman with the passing of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She shattered glass ceilings as the first woman to hold the position of Secretary of State.
Secretary Albright had a passion for democracy that grew from her early childhood experience of fleeing from Nazism and authoritarianism. By devoting her public life to fighting for democratic ideals, Albright spent her life fighting dictatorships and promoting freedom around the globe.
Albright grew up during the World War II generation and had an affinity for the brave men and women who fought for freedom here and abroad. On the 70th anniversary of the end of the conclusion of the war, she was scheduled to speak at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., but an illness prevented her. Instead, her sister delivered her prepared remarks, which I find particularly eloquent seven years later.
“As we reflect and give thanks, we can never forget that we are the recipients of a precious gift from those heroes whose consciences could not accept the theft of liberty or the reality of aggression and genocide.
For if we are to be true to these heroes today, we must never forget why World War II was fought and how it was won.
We must maintain solidarity with one another, never allowing our differences to interfere with the most profound values we share. We must dedicate ourselves to the principle that every individual counts.
And we must be willing to uphold that principle by defending democratic institutions and values throughout the world.”
World War II was the deadliest military conflict in human history, with more than 400,000 Americans and 60 million people killed worldwide. The number of living World War II veterans and members of the “Greatest Generation,” those who grew up during the Great Depression and contributed to the war effort, is, unfortunately, continuing to dwindle. It is estimated that there are less than 250,000 living World War II veterans today. It is important that we preserve and protect the legacy, lessons, and sacrifices of these World War II veterans.
The everyday men and women of the World War II generation helped reshaped America through their character, courage, creativity, determination, and innovation. We should continue to look to the Greatest Generation for the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.
Winston Churchill once said, “succeeding generations must not be allowed to forget their sacrifice and to live by the honor they represented.” For those “citizen soldiers” who left home at 17, 18, and 19 years old for the war, the way we can honor them is through a spirit of evangelism to assure our schools and universities do not forget their obligation to teach the history of our republic, and in particular, what our citizens have done in its wars, especially World War II. Remembering, honoring, recognizing, and thanking the World War II generation who — through sacrifice, valor, dedication, and determination — preserved our freedom, saved our nation, and literally saved the world should be important reminders for all of us during these summer months and beyond.
Shortly before her passing, Albright warned of the dangers of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It must have been particularly discouraging for her as Russia alone lost more than 20 million people in World War II.
Let’s honor Albright’s legacy by standing up for democratic institutions and values around the world. We must ensure that our Greatest Generation’s sacrifice was not in vain.
Josiah Bunting III is the chairman of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
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