SECRETARY KERRY: (In French.)
I’m going to deliver remarks in French, but I want to start by saying a few words in English for the Americans who want to know why the American Secretary of State is here today and what we are celebrating. And I want to quickly explain why St. Briac and all of Brittany means so much to me and to my entire family, and it is why we wanted to come here today to celebrate the liberation even though the liberation was in August, but yesterday we were at the beginning of that liberation, celebrating with people from all of Europe and the world who know the meaning of D-Day and of freedom.
My grandfather was an American businessman, and he discovered the beauty of the Emerald Coast and raised his family of 11 children, 11 brothers and sisters, including my mother, Brice’s mother, between St. Briac and England. When the Nazis arrived here in St. Briac, they took over our house and they turned it into their local headquarters. And after the liberation, as they were leaving, they set it on fire and bombed it to the ground.
Just this morning, one of my cousins showed me the telegram from my grandmother, who was in England, who sent word to my grandfather, who was then in Washington, D.C., about the house being bombed. And my mother told me that before the Nazis reached this village, the people of St. Briac collected some of our family items, things that were special – the linens, silverware, and so forth – and they kept them for safe keeping during the war. And when they gave these items back to my grandmother years later, she was overwhelmed with gratitude. So I know I speak for my entire family when I say we will never forget the people of St. Briac, this town’s courage and kindness. Thank you. (Applause.)
The very first time that my parents brought me to St. Briac is really one of the most – is one of the earliest, most vivid memories, but the earliest memories of my childhood. I was about four years old or so when you begin to remember. And it was a couple of years, a few years after the war had ended. It was the first time that my mother had come back here since she had fled France during the war, and I can still hear the sounds of the rubble and the broken glass that was crunching under our feet as we walked through what used to be her house. Almost nothing was left – just a stone staircase that rose up to the sky and an old brick chimney also rising up.
A few years later my grandparents rebuilt the house, and we have spent a family decades since filling it with happy memories. In a sense, that represents the story of France. Certainly this country saw and felt and experienced the tragedy of World War II as very few others did. But France rebuilt itself, brick by brick, and today she is as strong as ever. (Applause.)
A few minutes ago I had the privilege of visiting the American memorial which you have so graciously placed there above the port. And we had a chance to lay wreaths and celebrate those who gave their lives in the liberation of St. Briac, three Americans: Private Ralph Posey from Louisiana, Private Sim McDaniel from Arkansas, and Captain John Wilmer from Washington, D.C.
Captain Wilmer’s wife was pregnant when he left for Normandy. So before he died, Captain Wilmer wrote a letter to his unborn daughter. And he knew that he might not make it back to the United States alive, and he wanted to explain why he took the risk – what exactly he was fighting for. And his explanation was very simple. He told his daughter that he never met, “…family, home, and the right to breathe freely. I am willing to die fighting for these things. I am happy to fight for them.”
This sentiment – this dream of uncompromising defense of liberty – is at the heart of the partnership the United States and France have long shared and will continue to share. It is what has united us from the beginning of American history. (Applause.)
(Applause and cheers.)