Nicolai Ceausescu stood before an audience of 200,000, recounting for them his supposed works on their behalf. One elderly woman shouted out what others only thought. "Liar," she said. Others echoed her, first hundreds, then thousands. And with the fall of Ceausescu days later, the entire nation had awoken and a people were freed.
And here, in 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul the Second, spoke words that would bring down an empire and bring freedom to millions who lived in bondage. "Be not afraid" - those words changed the world.
I, and my fellow Americans, are inspired by the path of freedom tread by the people of Poland.
Long before modern times, of course, the Polish and American people were hardly strangers. The name "Pulaski" is honored to this day in America, and so is the memory of other Poles who joined in our fight for independence. Two years after our young republic gave the New World its first freely adopted written constitution. Poland did the same for the Old World, with a preamble that called liberty "dearer than life."
At every turn in our history, through wars and crises, through every change in the geopolitical map, we have met as friends and allies. That was true in America's Revolutionary War. It was true in the dark days of World War II. And it has been true in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has never been a moment when our peoples felt anything but mutual respect and good will - and that is not common in history.
Americans watched with astonishment and admiration, as an electrician led a peaceful protest against a brutal and oppressive regime.
"It has to be understood," as President Walesa has recently said, "that the solidarity movement philosophy was very simple. When you can't lift a weight, you ask someone else for help and to lift it with you."
Of course, among the millions of Poles who said "yes", there was one who has a unique and special place in our hearts: Pope John Paul the Second. When he first appeared on the balcony above Saint Peter's Square, a correspondent on the scene wrote to his editor with a first impression. This is not just a pope from Poland, he said, "This is a pope from Galilee."
In 1979, Pope John Paul the Second celebrated Mass with you in a square not too far from here. He reminded the world there would be no justice in Europe without an independent Poland, and he reminded the Polish people, long deprived of their independence, from where they drew their strength.
While greeting a crowd huddled along a fence, he met a little girl. He paused and asked her, "Where is Poland?" But the girl - caught off guard - couldn't answer. She laughed nervously until the great pope put his hand over her heart and said: "Poland is here."