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On Capitol Hill, A Statue And A Rock God Bring Politicians Together


At the U.S. Capitol today, politicians from both sides of the Atlantic, along with a touch of rock royalty, gathered in tribute to Sir Winston Churchill. The occasion was the unveiling of a bust of the British prime minister. He is one of the only non-Americans to be so honored in that building. Lending his voice to the event was Roger Daltrey. The lead singer of The Who may not seem a natural choice to honor Britain's wartime leader. But as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, there is a connection.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The Capitol Statuary Hall was packed with members of Congress, senators, and Britons for the Churchill bust's dedication. There was much talk of Churchill's legacy. In his invocation, House chaplain, the Reverend Patrick Conroy reminded the many elected officials present that Churchill's party lost its majority as the Allies were about to win World War II.

REVEREND PATRICK CONROY: At a pivotal time in history, Sir Winston's gift was leadership in a time of great chaos and fear which, when expended, left the world a safer place and the prime minister peacefully voted out of office.

NAYLOR: Conroy said that peaceful transfer of power was itself an important Churchillian legacy. Many spoke of Churchill's great love for America and Americans' love for Churchill. House Speaker John Boehner, who organized the ceremony, appeared to choke back tears as he spoke of the special relationship between Churchill and the U.S.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Growing up, he read our books. He revered Lincoln. He knew better than most Americans the trials of the Civil War. He even wrote in our magazines on everything from hospitality to food to our engines. You could say that he saw in America the very exceptionalism that we see today.

NAYLOR: Churchill himself addressed Congress some three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which finally brought the U.S. into the war. Excerpts from that speech were played during today's ceremony, including this joke about his mixed American and British parentage.


SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL: By the way, I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own.

NAYLOR: And there were also these famous and stirring lines at a dark time for both nations.


CHURCHILL: It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. Still, I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come, the British and American people will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice and in peace.

NAYLOR: OK. So what was Roger Daltrey doing there in the midst of all the pomp and speechifying? Well, it turns out The Who singer, known for swinging his mic on stage, singing about my generation, is of the generation that owes a great deal to Churchill.

ROGER DALTREY: I was born in a V-2 raid. I started coming out of my mother. She was down in a tube station. So, you know, when your family had been through that horror of the Second World War in London, you know, without that man, who knows what the outcome would have been? And I think an awful lot of people here today wouldn't be here probably.

NAYLOR: So, Daltrey performed two numbers, "Stand By Me," in honor of the Anglo-American friendship, and a Who classic. As Churchill might have said, we will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the street, and we won't get fooled again.


DALTREY: We'll be fighting in the streets with our children at our feet, and the morals that they worship will be gone.

NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.


DALTREY: And the men who spurred us on, they sit in judgment of all wrong. They decide and the shotgun sings the song.


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.

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