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'History . . . Has Always Been Up to Us'

Obama's great-uncle Charles Payne, who as a young soldier helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp nearly a year after D-Day, watched from the front row alongside first lady Michelle Obama.

The U.S. president walked into the memorial's semicircle of columns with Sarkozy, Britain's Prince Charles, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

They took seats among scores of surviving D-Day veterans, the audience stretching before them in a wide column that reached far back among the graves.

Early in his 15-minute speech, Obama acknowledged former senator Robert J. Dole, who was badly wounded in World War II and attended the ceremony with his wife, former senator Elizabeth Dole. Obama thanked Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who the president noted "began this mission 65 years ago with a simple charge: 'Okay, let's go.' "

In a ceremony here 25 years ago, President Ronald Reagan called the D-Day anniversary a moment "to celebrate the triumph of democracy." A decade later, President Bill Clinton warned here "that progress is not inevitable. But neither was victory upon these beaches."

In a speech that included tales of individual heroism and inspiring wartime industriousness in the United States, Obama echoed those earlier remarks.

"It was unknowable then," he said, "but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only 6 miles long and 2 miles wide."

Families, veterans and young soldiers gathered under a row of pines, gazing down the deadly slope of hill to Omaha Beach and a shoreline where, at dawn 65 years ago, more than 135,000 U.S., Canadian and British troops landed under heavy German fire.

At Omaha Beach alone, 3,881 soldiers died.

In his remarks, Sarkozy said, "We cannot name them all, those heroes to whom we owe so much."

"They were so many," he said. "But we shall never forget them."

Like the other leaders who spoke, Sarkozy warned that "the threats that loom over the future of humanity today are of a different kind, but they are no less serious," naming terrorism, famine and human rights violations.


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