DCM Yael Lempert’s Memorial Day Remarks at Brookwood American Cemetery

Headstones aligned in rows in front of the chapel at Brookwood American Cemetery (ABMC)

DCM LEMPERT: It is an honor and a privilege to be invited to speak here today as, together, on this Memorial Day, we remember the men and women who have served our nation in all conflicts, in all eras. Today, a grateful nation honors the proud patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice.

We remember those 468 of our fallen military comrades who fought during World War 1 buried here at Brookwood, and the 563 missing from that war who are memorialized here, to those who have died in recent years on the battlefields of Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

And in particular this year, with the actual commemoration in almost two weeks time, we remember and honor those who fought for the liberation of Europe on the beaches and landing zones of Normandy 75 years ago, in what was the most remarkable undertaking in the history of warfare.

As the President said in his Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery last year – “The heroes who rest in these hallowed fields — in the cemeteries, battlefields, and burial grounds near and far — are drawn from the full tapestry of American life.  They came from every generation, from towering cities and windswept prairies, from privilege and from poverty.  They were generals and privates, captains and corporals, of every race, color, and of every creed.  But they were all brothers and sisters in arms.  And they were all united then, as they are united now forever, by their undying love of our great country.”

Photo of Yael Lempert
Deputy Chief of Mission Yael Lempert

Today, I am not only speaking as a representative of the U.S. Government.

I’m speaking as an American citizen. As a mother.

As a daughter.

And as a granddaughter.

And as all of those things, it humbles me to be here at Brookwood to pay tribute to the American men and women who gave their lives to defend the rights and freedoms our countries fight for.

I was lucky enough to be born with those rights and freedoms in the United States.

But I was taught from an early age that they can never be taken for granted.

My Grandfather wasn’t born in the United States. He was born in Poland. He was Jewish.

As the threats against his community began to escalate in the early part of the last century, he managed to emigrate to the United States.

Most of his family did not, not feeling the need at that time to leave Poland and the only home they knew, unable to conceive of the horrors that lay ahead.

My family still has the letters they wrote in the 1930s, desperate to escape, frantically pleading with my grandfather to help them, which he tried to do, but was unsuccessful in securing their exit from Poland and entry into the US.

Their letters are a window into the increasing persecution they faced.

And they are a window into the tragic future they, and so many millions of others, would go on to suffer.

Our family in Poland did not survive World War II – they were all wiped out.

Our family in America, did not forget it.

My father, for example.

He was a child during World War II, and for the rest of his life, including proud years in the U.S. Air Force, he was a student of the two World Wars, consuming books about the fateful decisions that led to these massive conflicts…

…the campaigns across the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific…

…the human impact and those who fought…

The people of all countries who were ready to set their own lives aside, to defend the rights and freedoms and the very survival of families like mine – families on the other side of the world.

When he died last August, my father was reading a book about the Battle of Britain, and the German onslaught on British cities – “Terror From the Sky”. That very day, we’d discussed the incredible courage of the young Allied pilots and airmen – flying off to Germany, knowing the chances were high they would not return – and that of the British people.

From my Grandfather, to my Father, to me, and now to my young daughter, who is just learning about the unimaginable horrors of World War I and II, my family, like so many others, will always remember with incalculable gratitude all those who fought and literally saved millions of lives.

As all of you here well understand, it is enormously powerful to come to Brookwood and see these rows of white marble headstones.

To read the names of the missing. To see the graves of so many other Allied soldiers all around the American cemetery. In death as they fought, next to each other, comrades in arms, shoulder to shoulder.

And to contemplate how many others were once buried here before they found permanent resting places elsewhere – like the hundreds of U.S. soldiers who rehearsed for D-Day in Exercise Tiger in 1944 off the coast of Slapton Sands in Devon – tragically killed in a surprise German attack.

Over the course of my life, as a U.S. diplomat, I have had the sacred honor of paying my respects at the graves of our soldiers in countries around the world.

Most recently it was in Tunisia, where I paid tribute to the men who fought in the North Africa campaign of World War 2; 2,841 of them are buried at the North Africa American Cemetery.

There, as here, with each grave, with each row of marble markers …With each name, and with each individual story …I understand in sharper clarity the true enormity of what our countries, and so many families, have sacrificed for the values we stand for. Looking across that field, and this one, we see the scale of true heroism.

It is a lesson we have a duty and a sacred responsibility to pass on to the next generation – it is incumbent upon us to help them understand the horrors and sacrifices and courage of these wars – the personal stories behind the overwhelming statistics – and to honor those who went before and gave us the countries – truly, the world – we live in today. And it is a lesson we have a duty to keep learning ourselves.

To keep learning more about the sacrifices made on our behalf, and to keep honouring the men and women who made them. Like my father, until our dying days.

Because in always remembering how much was sacrificed to defeat extremism, hatred, and oppression…and by how many…

We are given the strength and the courage to follow in their lead, and in all of our own ways in our current circumstances, to defend liberty, freedom, and the dignity and sanctity of human life wherever it is under threat, from one generation to the next.