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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | May 5, 2017

75th Commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris

Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

75th Commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea

New York, NY

May 4th, 2017

As Delivered


Good evening, folks! Let's give it up one more time for the American and Australian veterans of the Battle of the Coral Sea… and if you've got anything left for the American bombshells who sang such a great rendition of our National Anthem earlier this evening.

So it's indeed a great honor for me to be here. Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm happy to report to you that Air Chief Marshal Binskin and I had a terrific consultation earlier today where we reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Australia military mateship -- and candidly, our biggest hurdle was whether to spell "Defense" with a 'C' or an 'S.' I think we were able to work it out.

So let me acknowledge, of course:

. My Commander-in-Chief, President Trump and Mrs. Trump;

. A true friend of the United States, Prime Minister Turnbull and Mrs. Turnbull;

. Current and former Ambassadors, and all the members of our diplomatic and consular corps - especially Ambassadors Joe Hockey and John Berry;

. Fellow Flag and General Officers; and distinguished guests.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm humbled to be here among so many American patriots and Australian allies to commemorate this, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Ambassador Berry asked me to talk about my dad. I'm very familiar with this important piece of world history, because my father was a Sailor during this legendary battle. He was a motor machinist's mate --like Mr. Hancock -- and he served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, or "Lady Lex," as she was known to her crew.

Now, it's often said that members of the Greatest Generation were reluctant to talk about their war experiences. Not my dad. From my earliest memories to the day he died, that's all he talked about!

In retrospect, I'm surprised that he didn't name me Lex.

So you see, Dad would describe these same sea stories over and over as if telling it for the first time. He was very proud of his small part in this pivotal battle, where war rained from airplanes launched from distant aircraft carriers that never saw one another -- a battle where two nations still reeling from bombings at Pearl Harbor and Darwin halted what seemed to be an unstoppable Imperial Japanese offensive.

At Coral Sea, the Lady Lex fought hard, but her wounds from torpedo hits and ensuing fires were mortal. Although he saw many of his shipmates killed, fortunately, of course, my dad survived. Even with the perspective that comes from 39 years of wearing this uniform, I still can't imagine what my dad and his shipmates went through that day in May, in 1942.

So, as we reflect tonight on the Battle of Coral Sea, and why it still resonates 75 years later, I think it's fitting that we do so in New York City and aboard the USS Intrepid. This ship's story begins where Lexington's ends. Intrepid served with distinction throughout the Pacific Theater -- another in a long, gray line of ships that have proudly flown Old Glory in combat, sent to defend America and our allies like Australia.

"Fearless and bold," "courageous," "heroic": these words define Intrepid. It's a legendary name in our Navy because it captures America's character, just as it epitomizes the national spirit of Australia. "Intrepid" describes not only those who fought at Coral Sea, but also the strategic partnership forged in fire between the United States and Australia -- an alliance that has stood together in World War II. In Korea. In Vietnam. In the Cold War. In the Gulf War. In Afghanistan and in Iraq… and now, in our global fight to eradicate ISIS -- and also in our unified message to North Korea that we will not tolerate reckless, dangerous nuclear-tipped threats.

Ladies and gentlemen: today, this ship serves America as a living monument to industry, to liberty, and to freedom. And that's appropriate considering the New York skyline around us -- the Empire State Building over here; the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower behind me -- and like our heroes who responded to the tragedy on 9/11, this ship represents the power, the glory, and the resolve of our nation.

Unlike old soldiers -- and even old Sailors -- great ships neither die nor fade away. They live forever in the hearts and minds of those who sailed aboard them -- fought, sweated, and bled on their decks -- and in the memories of the families whose loved ones died in their service.

Like Gettysburg; like Gallipoli; like Ground Zero; Intrepid is hallowed ground. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear her speaking to us.

Listen, and hear the massive blast when a kamikaze went right through the flight deck right over there, exploding in the hangar bay.

Listen, and hear the warriors who fought on these decks: on the ships at Coral Sea, and during all the battles of World War II. Most, including my dad, are no longer with us… but we can still hear their stories. For their spirits move among us tonight, reminding us that America's and Australia's hard-earned freedoms are worth the risk of harm to our very selves -- that these are ideals worth the fight.

So tonight, take comfort in knowing that the sentinel spirits who linger in this proud hangar bay -- and on ships like Lady Lex at the bottom of the Coral Sea, and HMAS Perth in the Sunda Strait -- these spirits continue to stand the watch as guardian angels of our freedoms.

So I'll conclude with this: today's Australian and U.S. alliance has assumed liberty's mantle, passed down from the Coral Sea in an unbroken chain, watch to watch, for 75 years. Just as Australia and the United States stood together against tyranny and oppression in the 20th Century, the world expects no less in the 21st.

May God bless New York. May God bless our Australian allies, and may God bless the United States of America, which will forever be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Thank you very much.

And now, ladies, and gentlemen: a very special treat. As a Tennessee boy, I like to say that I enjoy both kinds of music: Country and Western.

And for an Australian country singer, it doesn't get much more 'western' than New York City.

So it's my pleasure and honor to introduce to you tonight not only a country music superstar, but someone who's been a great supporter of the Australian Defence Force.

From her 2006 hit Poster Girl on the Wrong Side of the World, to her 2015 gut-wrencher Broken Soldiers, this is a woman whose words have inspired audiences on both sides of the Pacific -- particularly those who wear the cloths of their nations. Folks, let's give it up for Adelaide's own… Ms. Beccy Cole.


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