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Tribute to Gen Alexander "Sandy'' Patch and the 65th Anniversary of Operation Dragoon

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I say to Mayor Bruno, residents of Ramatuelle, France, and especially to all the French and American veterans gathered for this important event, I am honored to lend my voice from afar to the chorus of those who celebrate the past, present, and future of the extraordinary bond between our two great nations.

At watershed moments in history, France and America have always looked across the sea to each other in friendship and fidelity.

When the British colonies reached their moment of truth, our Founding Fathers stood shoulder to shoulder with Marquis de Lafayette, Comte de Rochambeau, and countless other Frenchmen who never made it home. Many French were, as we would later say, ``present at the creation'' of the United States. And our great experiment, in turn, helped inspire the French to not just dream of, but actually take to the streets and demand, ``liberty, equality, and brotherhood'' for all of their own people and all of mankind.

So when our military leaders came together to liberate France from Nazi Germany, we weren't inventing a new story from whole cloth. We were reaffirming a centuries-old friendship, giving new life to the timeless ideals we share and the recurrent sense on both sides of the ocean that the fates of our nations are forever linked.

GEN Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, commander of the French forces in Operation Dragoon, used to tell a powerful story about a meeting with his American counterpart, GEN Alexander ``Sandy'' Patch. Unlike Sandy Patch, General de Lattre lived long enough after the war to reflect on his experiences.

When Patch granted him the support he needed to take the fight to the Nazis, de Lattre wrote that, ``I suddenly saw the clear, grave eyes of the American commander soften. With hesitation that was full of shyness, he brought out his pocket-book and from it he took a flower with two stems, which was beginning to fade. `Look,' he said, breaking it into two and handing me one of the stems, `a young girl gave me it on the slopes of Vesuvius on the day before we embarked. She said it would bring me luck. Let us each keep half and it will take our two armies side by side on the road to victory.' '' As the French General said, it was ``a touching wish which was answered by heaven.''

General Patch's gift was the personal gesture of a man who was both great and gracious. It is also a fitting metaphor for the friendship of our two countries. Each helped freedom to flower in the other, and we are bound together by the enduring fact that we each carry a part of the same idea forward with us.

GEN "Sandy'' Patch--hero at Guadalcanal, liberator of southern France, whose troops would later cross the Rhine as victors--was a great American and a great admirer of the French people. Hailing from a small mining town in the western United States near the Mexican border, Patch described General de Lattre in a letter to his wife as ``a typical, intelligent, broadly educated, volatile and attractive Frenchman.'' But when the French emerged from their homes in the liberated town of Saint Raphael and began to sing their national anthem, which had been forbidden just days before, General Patch listened to "La Marseillaise'' with tears streaming down his face.

Although Patch was famously pugnacious as a young man, he grew into a man of remarkable personal discipline who remained unafraid of battle but who, as his biographer wrote, ``had a remarkable and brooding concern about the human cost'' of war.

He was a man who shunned the spotlight. It is said that when General Patch saw himself hailed on the cover of Time magazine as ``Patch de Provence,'' he never even read the article.

His own sense of humility inspired his subordinates to live up to the confidence he placed in them. He was not just respected by his fellow soldiers--he was loved. Smoking his rolled up ``Bull Durham'' cigarettes, he remained to his last days an American original and, as GEN Dwight Eisenhower memorialized him, ``a soldier's soldier.'' That is what he lived to be, and that is what he was.

For a soldier's soldier who died of pneumonia just 2 days short of his 56th birthday, the landing here in southern France represented the culmination of his life's work.

And what an accomplishment it was: Dragoon was a remarkable undertaking, and a great success. Coming as it did 6 weeks after Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, operation Dragoon was one of the war's most poorly kept secrets. And yet it arrived with such overwhelming force that the Nazis could not resist it. 9,000 men arrived the first day by air, 77,000 by sea. By the third day, Hitler had instructed a few units to guard the ports and sent the rest of France's occupiers into retreat. He is said to have called August 15, the first day of Operation Dragoon, ``the worst day of my life.''

By August 28, the port cities of Toulon and Marseilles had fallen, and within just one month our armies had covered almost 500 miles and captured nearly 100,000 German soldiers.

Of course, none of this came easy. Many suffered for the great dream of a France that was once again free--of a Europe and a world free from fascism.

Women like Marie-Madeleine Fourcade and Helene Vagliano who faced torture from the Germans for their role in the French resistance--but refused to reveal any information that would endanger those who shared their cause.

Men like the French commandoes who landed miles away from the main invasion force and found themselves trapped in a minefield bravely resisting German fire.

Men like French Sgt Noel Texier, who landed a rubber dinghy and began climbing the 100-meter high flat face of Cap Negre, only to fall to his death and become, as far as we can tell, the first casualty of Operation Dragoon.

Young men like ``Mac'' Patch--General Patch's only son, who was christened Alexander Patch III but known to everyone as ``Mac.'' Mac Patch took a direct hit from a tank gun and died fighting for a free France.

Tragically, while General de Lattre's only son, Bernard, would survive World War Two, he too died just 6 years later on the battlefields of Indochina. Both generals outlived their sons, but neither by very much. Neither man outlived the crush of grief that came after. With their sons in battle, I can assure you that General Patch and General de Lattre never forgot the cost of war--the price of freedom. And neither should we.

And so with enormous pride for what these men accomplished and a heavy heart for all that they lost, we come together today to mark the anniversary of the signature achievement of a great generation of men and women. We come together to commemorate a high point of French-American friendship, and to celebrate all that we won: the right to gather here today, the chance to raise our families in peace, and the right to walk as free people down free streets in a free France.

On behalf of all Americans, I want to express my gratitude to the citizens of Ramatuelle for their commitment to honor this monument of liberation and for the bond forever cemented between us by the brave soldiers and citizens who stood together to make an eternal difference.

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