- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 11, 2000

On this Veterans Day, I pause to remember the lessons of democracy instilled by my father and grandfather both of whom served in World War II. Through their words and deeds they passed to me an unwavering belief in the immutable virtues of honor, integrity, and self-reliance virtues that made our country whole, civilized and free and that were a source of strength for me during the most trying times in Vietnam. My father and grandfather are Americans who, through heroic deeds and unfathomable sacrifice, fought to defend those virtues, strengthen them in the forge of battle and make the United States what it is today a beacon of hope to all people held captive by oppression, ignorance and privation.

As we honor the brave men and women who sacrificed to preserve our nation's freedom and democracy, we pay special tribute to the generation of Americans who mobilized the body and soul of our nation to resist the seemingly unstoppable march of tyranny that defined the 20th century. With the groundbreaking ceremony for the National World War II Memorial today on the National Mall in D.C., the 16 million men and women who fought to rid the world of totalitarianism finally will receive the honor and commemoration they so rightfully deserve.

I have spent time in the company of heroes. I was raised on tales of surpassing courage and selfless devotion to duty. When I was a young boy, my brother and I would sit quietly, unobserved, and listen to my father and his friends reminisce about their wartime experiences. They talked about battles on sea and land, Marine landings on fiercely defended Pacific atolls, submerged battles between submarines all the drama and fury most kids went to the movies to experience.

It is hard to imagine now a war with such high stakes. During the 1930s and '40s, the conventional wisdom was that free people in an unruly democracy were no match for the disciplined and regimented ranks of the New Order or the New Socialist Man. People with the liberty to vote would never have the staying power to resist a focused totalitarian regime in an all-out struggle. Those doubts and the perilous reasoning that sought to dismiss the profoundly immoral ideology behind fascism and communism led to ruinous policies of appeasement, relativism and defeat.

The outbreak of war sought to resolve once and for all the conflict between democracy and autocracy, freedom and terror, good and evil. It may seem hard to recall a time when such stark issues were ever in question. But remember the scorn heaped on Ronald Reagan for calling the Soviet Empire evil. The long twilight struggle that followed World War II further tested the resolve of free people to resist. And to their credit, the generation that defeated Nazism also vanquished its mirror-image communism and wrote a hopeful ending to the 20th century's long and bitter chapter on man's inhumanity to man.

Now, on the threshold of a new century, we are tempted to forget the enormous price paid by ordinary people to make total war unthinkable for their children and grandchildren. Human memory is too fragile and fleeting to be the sole reliquary of such an important historical lesson. We need to honor their commitment to freedom and democracy permanently with a memorial of stone, not of memory, and place it prominently where all can see, rather than tucked away in musty diaries, forgotten photo albums, or hidden city corners.

A National World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington D.C. will stand as an eloquent reminder of the extraordinary power of ordinary people. Rather than a cold and remote edifice, it will serve as a living memorial a stage on which future generations will act out the rituals and traditions of democracy. The National World War II Memorial will serve as a platform for expressing the powerful reasons for recognizing evil, resisting tyranny and fighting until final victory is achieved regardless of the cost. With only 6 million World War II veterans witnessing the end of the 20th century and with the passing of more than 1,000 of this generation each day, we realize a sense of renewed urgency for making this long overdue memorial a reality.

I have been fortunate in my life to have the opportunity to learn from great men. From my grandfather and my father to President Ronald Reagan, I have been honored to witness character, courage and steadfast patriotism. The National World War II Memorial will make witnesses of us all and allow those Americans yet to come to share the company of heroes.

John McCain is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Arizona and is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

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