On behalf of Secretary Carter, I want to welcome the many distinguished guests who have joined us here today. I want to especially recognize General Sir Nicholas Houghton, British Army, Chief of the Defense Staff (CDS), and his wife Lady Margaret Houghton. Nick, Maggie, it’s great to see you both here today. And I also want to extend a warm welcome to all the British Defense Chiefs – thank you for joining us and also for your strong partnership and friendship.
I want to thank our own Chiefs of Staff for joining us here this morning – along with the many senior leaders from the Department of Defense who are here as well.
I know Chairman Dempsey very much wanted to be here this morning but he’s accompanying Secretary Carter on Capitol Hill where they are making our case for this year’s defense budget before 20 of their best friends in the SAC-D.
So it’s a real honor for me to be here in his absence and participate in this ceremony that celebrates the legacy of such a larger than life historical figure who was a personal hero of mine – Winston S. Churchill. And it is a particular pleasure to accept his bust on behalf of the Department of Defense and to thank the British people for this thoughtful and wonderful gift.
It is a most appropriate time to celebrate the legacy of Winston Churchill as this Friday we mark the 70th anniversary of VE-Day – Victory in Europe day. Churchill did so much to make that victory possible – along with the British people, who truly gave their blood, sweat, and tears during that titanic struggle of the 20th century.
Churchill was an incredibly inspirational leader – able to motivate and inspire by his mere presence. The famous declaration “Winston is back!” was telegraphed to all ships of the Royal Navy in September 1939, as Winston returned as First Lord of the Admiralty. The message electrified ship’s crews, and also served as warning to ship’s captains that an exacting leader had returned who would be relentless in his demand of nothing but the highest performance.
Of course it was as wartime Prime Minister that Churchill demonstrated such an astounding capacity to lead and inspire – even when the military situation appeared the most bleak. The eminently quotable Churchill constantly steeled the British people for the mighty task that lay ahead. In a speech to the House of Commons, just after being appointed prime minister in 1940, as Hitler’s armies were pouring across France. He said: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs.”
As British Air Marshall Sir Charles Portal recalled, Churchill’s arrival at No. 10 Downing Street had an immediate impact on the war effort. “He put a bomb under Whitehall,” Portal said. “From then till the end of the war he was constantly urging, driving, probing, restless in his search for new ways for getting at the enemy.”
As a wartime leader Churchill was full of ideas, including more than a few wild battlefield inventions – some turned out to be quite effective, others not so much. He came up with the idea for the Mulberry Harbors employed during the Normandy landings. Although thankfully his idea for giant aircraft carriers made of ice never materialized. But as strong as his opinions might have been, and they were strong, he always yearned for advice and expert opinion. As Air Marshall Portal said: “He wanted good hard stones on which to sharpen the knife of his ideas.”
For our part, the United States could not have asked for a more inspirational, tough-minded, and relentless partner in a war that would decide the fate of so many. As Dwight Eisenhower said of Churchill: “[His] rugged determination, his fighting spirit, and his singleness of purpose, were always a spur to action. Never once did he give less than full cooperation in any endeavor necessary to our military objectives, and never did he hesitate to use his magnetic and powerful personality to win cheerful acceptance from his countrymen of the great demands he was forced to make upon them.”
And while the British and American chiefs disagreed at times over the exact tactics of that war, our two nation’s remained unified in purpose throughout, fighting together in some of history’s bloodiest battles in both the European and the Pacific theaters. And the end result was indeed, as Churchill predicted: victory.
It was thus with our greatest respect, that we named one of our destroyers USS WINSTON CHURCHILL. An honor bestowed on an incredibly small number of foreign leaders. And in the continuing closeness of the U.S. - UK relationship, it is the only U.S. Navy vessel with a Royal Navy officer permanently assigned to the ship’s company.
Winston Churchill, whose mother was American, truly embodied the closeness of the U.S. – UK relationship. An honorary citizen of the United States, Churchill said, "To have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy."
Well at this point in time, let me say, "To have the United Kingdom at our side is the greatest joy." When we look out onto this world, you are the country with whom we share the most similar values and global view.
That means whenever we are thinking of using our military to resolve some security situation, the first ally whose support we seek is the United Kingdom. And often, you've already been telling us about the problem and how we should be engaging. There aren't many allies who do that. That's incredibly valuable when we feel the weight of global security responsibilities--and want to share it. The United States is looking for allies with the will, capability, and experience to assume greater responsibility for security challenges around the world.
You are one of those allies. Your leadership role on the global stage, backed by a capable military, is important to the United States.
The U.S. military is always glad to have the British military alongside us in the fight. I would like to express my personal thanks and the nation's sincere gratitude for the British troops who have served, and continue to serve, alongside our sons and daughters in Afghanistan. The UK military has been with us through all phases of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. And we mourn with you the loss of 453 UK service members in Afghanistan. They have courageously followed in the footsteps of generations of UK service men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice and who fought side-by-side with the United States to provide others with a better future.
And as the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq emerged last summer, UK MOD and DoD leaders at multiple levels worked together on a combined approach to addressing the crisis. The UK has been a steady and significant partner in operations against ISIL from the beginning. On behalf of Secretary Carter and the American people I would like to extend our country’s thanks to the UK for their many contributions.
In closing, let me say that Churchill understood the value of the UK’s strong alliance with the United States. On this occasion, I want to affirm that the United States understands the importance of its alliance with the United Kingdom – and deeply values it.
I want to once again thank the British Chiefs for being here with us today and thank the British people for this most thoughtful gift.
I’d like to now turn it over to Mr. Lee Pollock, who is the Executive Director of the Churchill Center. He has been kind enough to ask Randolph Churchill, Sir Winston's great-grandson, who is the Trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and of Churchill Heritage Ltd., to provide a short message of appreciation from the family. Thank you.