Obama pays tribute to D-Day heroes
Published 06/06/2014 | 10:37
Seventy years after Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, US president Barack Obama has paid tribute to a "powerful manifestation of America's commitment to human freedom" that lives on in a new generation.
During a ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Mr Obama said: "Our commitment to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being - that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity."
In bright sunshine, Mr Obama joined other world leaders on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, June 6 1944, on the site he referred to as "democracy's beachhead".
Nearly 10,000 white marble tombstones sit on the site, overlooking the scene of D-Day's most violent fighting, Omaha Beach.
He described the invasion in vivid terms, recalling that "by daybreak, blood soaked the water" and "thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand."
Veterans of the battle travelled long distances to the remote historic site and removed their hats as the audience delivered a long standing ovation when Mr Obama recognised them.
The US president said: "These men waged war so that we might know peace.
"They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we'd no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them."
The anniversary commemoration was a gathering point for world figures in the midst of a current geopolitical crisis, with Russian president Vladimir Putin attending events along with leaders who oppose his moves into Ukraine.
All eyes promised to be on Mr Putin and Mr Obama, who were expected to have some interaction during a lunch for world leaders at the Chateau de Benouville.
Mr Obama's speech at the morning ceremony came after he met privately with seven of the dwindling number of surviving troops who fought Adolf Hitler's forces, along with seven members of the US military who have served since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001.
Among them was Sgt 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who served 10 deployments and was severely wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Mr Obama recognized Sgt Remsburg at the emotional high-point of his State of the Union address earlier this year, after first meeting him five years ago at the Normandy commemoration.
Mr Obama held Sgt Remsberg up as an example of the sacrifice of his generation, telling the D-Day veterans: "Your legacy is in good hands."
He added: "For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, a new generation, our men and women of war, have chosen to do their part as well."
The US leader also recognised the commitment that women and immigrants are making in a more diverse US military.
The president mentioned that his grandfather served in Patton's Army and his grandmother was among the many women who went to work supporting the war effort back home - in her case, on a B-29 bomber assembly line.
Mr Obama's grandparents helped raise him, and he broke from his prepared text to observe wistfully that there was never a time he missed his grandfather more or would have loved to be with him.
"Someday, future generations, whether seventy or seven hundred years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them," Mr Obama said.
"And to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known."