May 9, 2021
Thank you Prime Minister Zaev, for inviting me to participate together with you in this event today. I also want to recognize all of the veterans present, and of course the people of Vratnica.
This site is a special one, a place where people from both of our countries can gather to celebrate courage and bravery in the face of danger and conflict. It was on a mountain nearby on August 26, 1944, that an American B-24D bomber crashed after being hit by enemy fire while returning to Italy from a bombing run over Romania. Villagers, at great personal risk to themselves and their families, helped the three survivors down the mountain and recovered the bodies of two others and buried them. It was a profound act of humanity for which my country remains grateful.
One year ago, on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, we had intended to come here to mark the occasion, but another tragedy, this time the COVID-19 pandemic, prevented that from taking place. Now more than a year into the pandemic, we have all seen how, amid the devastation and death, by coming together, by working side by side, we can bring this virus to heel.
Together we will renew our economies, revitalize our partnerships, and learn from tragedy just as we used the horrors of World War II to construct a new order out of the ruins of Europe. This order has prevailed and expanded and, despite occasional challenges, still serves as the cornerstone of stability and prosperity for this continent, which remains a fast and steady partner for the United States. Most importantly, this order was based on unity, cooperation, and mutual trust.
I’d like to end by expressing my hope that we can also revive this last quality. Trust has suffered during the pandemic, though to be honest, it was in need of some reviving well before that as well. Trust within all of our societies, which has suffered at the hands of disinformation and the overall fragmentation of information sources. Trust in governments to make the right decisions and ensure the interests of the people are the top-most priority. Trust in each other, from everyday people to countries. If we re-learn one thing from this pandemic, I hope it is that we are all interdependent, and while people will never always agree, the basis for resolving any issue must be trust.
Although this event had to be cancelled last May, I did get the chance to visit this site last August, on the anniversary of the crash. The occasion was more informal, and I hiked up the mountain to the crash site with villagers and colleagues. It gave me a moment to reflect on the enormous progress we have all made since those dark days when the world was engulfed in war. Today, we stand here side-by-side, allies and friends, facing the challenges of the world together, just as those villagers and airmen did in 1944. I cannot think of a more appropriate place to mark this day.