President Barack Obama paid tribute to American and Allied forces who fought and died in the D-Day landings 70 years ago Friday, describing the shores of Normandy as “democracy’s beachhead.”
The president addressed crowds of veterans gathered under calm blue skies at Colleville-sur-Mer, a cemetery close to Omaha beach, where some 2,500 U.S. servicemen died in the invasion.
There are 9,387 U.S. personnel buried at the cemetery, which played host to one of the numerous services across northern France commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bloody amphibious assault that turned the tide of World War II on June 6, 1944.
“They left home barely more than boys and returned home heroes,” Obama said at Omaha where the fighting was so fierce it earned the name “Hell’s Beach.”
“Normandy, this was democracy’s beachhead. And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity,” Obama said. “Whenever the world makes you cynical – stop and think of these men.”
French and American flags fluttered in a gusty breeze behind the president, who together with French President Francois Hollande addressed an audience seated against a backdrop of rows upon rows of headstones.
After Obama arrived via helicopter from Paris, where he had met Hollande for dinner on Thursday night, a military band played the French and U.S. national anthems.
Later the two world leaders walked to an observation deck at Omaha and looked across the beach for a few moments. Obama then met veterans from World War II and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, several of whose stories he had mentioned in his speech.
Other services of varying sizes were going on in and around the five landing sites of the invasion to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day troops who risked and gave their lives to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II attended a separate event at Bayeux cemetery.
The Queen later met met Obama and Hollande ahead of a group lunch at the nearby Chateau de Benouville.
SOURCE: ALEXANDER SMITH