Seventy years after Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, President Barack Obama returned Friday to this hallowed battleground and said “the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom” on D-Day and now lives on in a new generation.
“America’s claim – our commitment to liberty, to equality, to freedom, to the inherent dignity of every human being – that claim is written in blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery on a morning that dawned glorious and bright over the sacred site he called “democracy’s beachhead.”
Obama spoke from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where nearly 10,000 white marble tombstones sit on a bluff overlooking the site of the June 6, 1944, battle’s most violent fighting at Omaha Beach. He described D-Day’s violent scene in vivid terms, recalling that “by daybreak, blood soaked the water” and “thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand.”
“We come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril,” Obama said. “And we come to tell the story of the men and women who did it, so that it remains seared into the memory of the future world.”
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 are standing against his aggressive moves into Ukraine. All eyes promised to be on Putin and Obama, who were expected to have some interaction during a lunch for world leaders at the Chateau de Benouville.
Obama’s speech at the morning ceremony came after he met privately with some of the dwindling number of surviving troops who fought Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, along with those who have served since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He told the D-Day veterans, “Your legacy is in good hands.”
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.
Obama also singled out from the audience Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who served 10 deployments and was severely wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Obama recognized 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. The two reunited Friday as Obama met with veterans at Omaha Beach before his speech.
“For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest and slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, our men and women of war, have chosen to do their part as well,” Obama said.
“And someday, future generations, whether seventy or seven hundred years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them – 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,” Obama said.