Bush Honors D-Day Veterans in Normandy
President Pledges Commitment to Transatlantic Alliance
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2004; 11:03 AM
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, June 6 -- President Bush Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy with a conciliatory pledge to Europeans who have questioned the American commitment to the transatlantic alliance forged in World War II: "America would do it again, for our friends."
The president appeared here at the American cemetery for what will be the last major commemoration of D-Day with veterans of Operation Overlord, who are reaching the end of their lives. Bush spoke of the hundreds of octogenarian veterans seated on the cliff here over Omaha Beach, between the rows of crosses and stars marking the graves of their comrades who never came home.
"Generations to come will know what happened here, but these men heard the guns," Bush said. "Visitors will always pay respects at this cemetery, but these veterans come looking for a name, and remembering faces and voices from a lifetime ago."
Bush blended his remembrance with a brief tribute to former President Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday at age 93. "Twenty summers ago, another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day," Bush said. "He was a courageous man, himself, and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom, and today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan."
Reagan's 1984 Pointe du Hoc speech marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day was memorable . "These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc," Reagan said then. "These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war."
Bush's speech, though filled with tenderness for the veterans and their long-lost comrades, made no attempt at soaring . His delivery was subdued, so soft that some in the audience had difficulty hearing him despite the amplifiers. As he did in his speech on the same spot on Memorial Day two years ago, Bush told a series of war stories, many with themes of religion and bravery.
He recalled Franklin Roosevelt's D-Day prayer in 1944, the "crucifixion" of dead paratroopers on telephone poles, and the bibles found in the wreckage on the shore. He spoke of dying soldiers who called out "mother, help me," and said of the dead: "We pray in the peace of this cemetery that they have reached the far shore of God's mercy."
Bush also spoke of the waning days of the surviving veterans. "Now has come a time of reflection, with thoughts of another horizon, and the hope of reunion with the boys you knew," he told the old soldiers, many of them tearful and surrounded by family. "I want each of you to understand you will be honored ever and always by the country you served and by the nations you freed."
French President Jacques Chirac joined Bush for a wreath laying ceremony at the American cemetery and then preceded Bush at the microphone. "France will never forget," he said, recalling France's "debt to America, its everlasting friend." Chirac declared that "America is our eternal ally" and said of those buried here: "They are now our sons, too."
Chirac waded delicately into the recent standoff between his government and the Bush administration over the Iraq war. Invoking the importance of the United Nations, which France has used to thwart U.S. plans for Iraq, the French leader said: "Our two peoples have stood shoulder to shoulder in the brotherhood of blood spilled, in defense of a certain ideal of mankind, of a certain vision of the world: the vision that lies at the heart of the United Nations Charter."
In an apparent reference to what the French and other Europeans have called Bush's "unilateralism," Chirac said this generation has a duty to build a society with "the hallmark of respect and dialogue, of tolerance and solidarity that was the quintessence of the struggle we are commemorating today."
Bush, who was lectured on Saturday night by Chirac on the folly of linking World War II to the Iraq war, avoided such comparisons today, instead celebrating the friendship with France. "Our great alliance of freedom is strong, and it is still needed today," Bush said. Telling the story of a Collesville woman who married an American G.I. who fought on Omaha Beach, Bush produced chuckles by declaring it "another fine moment in Franco-American relations."
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