Leaders Unite to Honor D-Day
Bush, Chirac Celebrate Heroism of Normandy Invasion
By Keith B. Richburg and Dana Milbank
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 7, 2004; Page A01
CAEN, France, June 6 -- Under a pristine blue sky, more than 20 world leaders gathered Sunday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, the world's largest amphibious military expedition, which cost tens of thousands of lives and eventually wrested control of mainland Europe from Nazi Germany.
Thousands of aging and ailing D-Day veterans -- Americans, Britons, Canadians, French and others -- met for what will likely be the last major reunion of what is now commonly called the Greatest Generation. With most of the D-Day veterans now in their eighties and dying at a rate of more than 1,000 a day, the ceremony -- with mournful martial music and the blasts of cannons -- bore the mark of a valedictory for those who fought, as well as a tribute to the fallen.
"France will never forget," French President Jacques Chirac said during ceremonies at the American military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. "She will never forget that sixth of June 1944, the day hope was reborn and rekindled. She will never forget those men who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity."
President Bush, who attended the events with first lady Laura Bush, said: "Generations to come will know what happened here, but these men heard the guns. 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."
"In the trials and that sacrifice of war we became inseparable allies," Bush said at the event, facing a sea of white stone crosses and Stars of David, marking the 9,387 American gravesites there. "The nations that battled across this continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace, and our great alliance of freedom is strong and it is still needed today."
Bush offered a conciliatory pledge to Europeans who today question the U.S. commitment to the transatlantic alliance forged in World War II: "America would do it again for our friends."
He 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."
Twenty years ago, Reagan gave a memorable speech marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day. "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 spoke about 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 said. "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."
At the main flag-draped ceremony at Arromanches, the midway point along the Normandy beaches where U.S., British and Canadian forces landed at dawn 60 years ago, Chirac said: "France will never forget what it owes America, its steadfast friend and ally."
"France is keenly aware that the Atlantic Alliance, forged in adversity, remains, in the face of new threats, a fundamental element of our collective security."
The event took on the form of a mini-summit. Bush, Chirac, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Queen Elizabeth II, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, as well as the leaders of Belgium, Norway, New Zealand and the Netherlands, met for a working lunch at a chateau that survived the Allied bombing of Caen and now serves as city hall.
Also in attendance was German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, making the first appearance at a D-Day commemoration by a German leader. Schroeder was born just two months before the invasion began, and for many Germans, his presence at the commemoration marked a long-sought recognition that the postwar period is over and Germany has resumed its place as a full and equal partner in the Western alliance.
Chirac's surprise invitation to Schroeder this year was as much a measure of the personal warmth between the two leaders -- who became close last year after jointly opposing the Iraq war -- as a sign of how far Europe has come in burying its wartime past.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Veterans, tourists and residents watch as a British Royal Marine flotilla lands on the beach at Asnelles as part of a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.
(Giles Penfound -- AP)
D-Day Memorials: Bush traveled through Italy and France over the weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.