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Natalie Gochnour: Romney's maiden speech spurs memories of D-Day and the cause of freedom

Ships and blimps sit off the coast of France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Seventy-five years later, surprising color images of the D-Day invasion and aftermath bring an immediacy to wartime memories. They were filmed by Hollywood director George Stevens and re
Ships and blimps sit off the coast of France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Seventy-five years later, surprising color images of the D-Day invasion and aftermath bring an immediacy to wartime memories. They were filmed by Hollywood director George Stevens and rediscovered years after his death.
George Stevens, War Footage From the George Stevens Collection at the Library of Congress

At the invitation of Ann Romney, I attended Sen. Mitt Romney’s maiden speech in the U.S. Senate this week. There in the Senate gallery with approximately 30 other guests of Ann Romney and 75 or so additional onlookers, we listened as Sen. Romney spoke with vision and clarity about U.S.-China relations and the need for a comprehensive strategy to protect U.S. interests. His speech, combined with this week’s 75th anniversary of D-Day, strengthened my resolve to support and align with freedom-loving people around the world.

The Senate gallery is a serious place. After being escorted into the Capitol, we were “badged” and asked to walk though metal detectors. Senate staff took our electronic devices and placed them in a box — no smartphones, smart watches or remote auto keys allowed. Staff asked us to keep conversations to a whisper. We couldn’t stand.

They seated the Romney family on the front row of the gallery and sat the rest of us — Romney associates from various chapters of his life, including his time in Utah, the Olympics, Massachusetts, his presidential campaign and others — behind the family.

Stenographers, Senate pages and other support staff lined the Senate floor. In the day of televised speeches, only a handful of senators were present. Utah’s senior senator Mike Lee attended and listened from his front-row seat on the Senate floor. Sen. Rick Scott from Florida presided from the president’s chair.

I noticed the Latin words "Annuit Coeptis" above an entrance to the Senate floor. The same motto appears on the reverse side of the great seal of the United States. It means “favored undertakings” or more completely “providence favors our actions.”

Read more: "Sen. Mitt Romney: China, not Russia, is the greatest threat to the U.S. (full speech)"

I don’t know if Romney’s speech was providential, but it was serious, focused and patriotic. He spoke with confidence and resolve as he sounded a warning: China is ambitious and increasingly hostile. He said China’s actions have brought it “right up to the line” of being a geopolitical foe. He said with a population four times larger than the U.S., China’s economy will eventually be larger than ours. Their economic might will bring military might. The U.S. must act to protect freedom in the world.

Romney highlighted three interventions. He said we must strengthen ourselves, confront China’s aggression and fortify friendly alliances. All three resonated with me, but because of the of D-Day commemoration this week it was his third point that really got me thinking.

I’m too young to remember D-Day, but I do remember my mother’s stories. They always started with the fear she felt on that fateful Sunday morning when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Her stories always ended with the hope she felt on D-Day when British, American and other Allied forces commenced the liberation of France. She helped me understand how America answered freedom’s call and revealed our national character.

I’ve felt this national character at different times in my life. I certainly felt it after 9/11. I also felt it when I traveled with my family to the D-Day beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery. There, by the graves of fallen soldiers, most of them barely 19 years old, I felt America’s character. I also felt an absolute alignment with freedom-loving nations in Europe.

Romney spoke to this relationship. He said, “America has many friends; China has few.” Referring to NATO and a strong Europe, Romney said, “We need to hold our friends closer.” He said America must beckon the “combined friends of freedom.”

These are inspiring words from a great leader. I left the speech grateful for Romney’s leadership and hopeful that America will redouble our commitment to international alliances. Europe not only needs us; we need them. Friends are like sheltering trees. There’s no better time than the 75th Anniversary of D-Day — a commemoration expected to be the last large gathering of D-Day veterans ever — to make this vision a reality.