Remembrance Sunday Remarks, 2016
Lew Lukens, Deputy Chief of Mission
Brookwood American Cemetery and Memorial
November 13, 2016
DCM LUKENS: Lord Lieutenant, Mr. Mayor. Distinguished veterans and members of the armed services. Your families. British friends. Fellow Americans.
“Progress is not inevitable.”
“It requires struggle and perseverance and discipline and faith.”
President Obama spoke those words in London, earlier this year.
He was talking to a hall full of young men and women – Britons with the good fortune not to have known conflict themselves.
He reminded them: “Those who came before us risked their lives – to give us the chance to know something better.”
On this day, here in this place, we come together to recognize exactly what that means.
We are here to remember the men and women who sacrificed on our behalf.
We are here to pay our respects – and to express our gratitude – to people we never knew.
People who nonetheless paid the highest price to secure the freedoms that we all enjoy today.
This is my first visit to Brookwood. It’s a moving – and humbling – experience to be here.
The tranquility of this beautiful setting stands in stark contrast to the horrors of war.
The order and calm is a world away from the noise and confusion of battlefields.
This place gives us the opportunity to pause, to reflect on what our armed forces go through.
And in so doing, to appreciate the extent of the sacrifices they make.
As an American, standing on British soil on Remembrance Day, I can’t help but think of the connection between our two people that this cemetery represents.
One of my grandfathers was British – he fought in Gallipoli then flew as a Lieutenant in the RAF in the First World War. My other grandfather, in the American Army, fought in France during that same war. He fought alongside his two brothers, one of whom was killed and now rests in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. Almost everyone here will have members of their own family who also saw service.
This place serves as a powerful symbol of the fact that our countries have long stood together, our servicemen and women fight and sometimes fall together, because we share the same view of what is important in this world.
As a diplomat, my whole professional life is dedicated to avoiding conflict.
My boss John Kerry said recently to another group of young Britons that no-one should go to war because they want to. We go to war only when we have to.
Only when every other remedy has been exhausted, only when diplomacy has failed, should war become an option.
That said, we recognize there are values greater than ourselves, and principles so important that sometimes we have to fight for them.
We have a shared belief in human dignity and freedom, democracy, the rule of law.
And we depend on the bravery of soldiers, sailors and airmen to face danger in order to defend that which we hold dear.
Not only those who came before us, but also the forces who to this day still put themselves in harm’s way for our sakes when the need arises.
We depend on heir “struggle and perseverance, their discipline and faith”.
So today we remember. Today, we thank them. Today, we honor them.
And for those of us who aren’t in the military, we too, have a duty.
It is up to us as citizens, not just on this day, but every day – to recognize that gratitude alone is not enough.
That remembering these brave men and women is not enough- unless we also recognize that our progress to a more peaceful, more prosperous, more just world, is not inevitable.
We all share the chance to ‘know something better.’
We honor the memory of those lying here by choosing not to squander that chance.
By taking nothing for granted.
Let us ourselves also struggle, and persevere. Let us show discipline and faith in the service of those values that are greater than we are.
Let us all in our own way make the most of this chance we have inherited.
Let us commit ourselves once more to do our own part on the path to progress.
We must honor and remember those buried here, not just today, but every day.
In this endeavor, and in the presence of those commemorated around us, we ask the support of all Americans; of you, our closest ally; and the blessings of God Almighty.