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

Brown, who in a stumble referred to Omaha Beach as "Obama Beach," said, "This is the place where you can chart the war's end and the start of a new world."

"We must be liberators for our generation," he said.

For much of the day, a brisk wind blew off the Atlantic, where a French warship bobbed at anchor.

Among the acres of graves, thousands of people gathered throughout a sunny morning that later gave way to rain. Veterans of the invasion, some wearing unit hats bedecked with medals and battle ribbons, visited the graves.

Some rolled in wheelchairs, others trudged with the help of canes -- paying solemn respects for perhaps the last time.

"As the numbers of this our greatest generation dwindle, we ask ourselves how can we honor them, how can we ever thank them," Harper said. "There is only one answer: to carry the torch from their failing hands and carry it high."

Obama mentioned his grandfather Stanley Dunham, who landed at Omaha Beach six weeks after the initial invasion and died in 1992. And he said he was proud that his great-uncle was in the audience.

In a thickening voice, he told the story of Jim Norene of the 101st Airborne Division, who died Friday night "after visiting this cemetery for one last time."

"As we face down the hardships and struggles of our time, and arrive at that hour for which we were born," he said, "we cannot help but draw strength from those moments in history when the best among us were somehow able to swallow their fears and secure a beachhead on an unforgiving shore."

Generations younger than the soldiers who stormed ashore here, Air Force Capts. John Leger and Peter Gruters traveled from military bases in Germany to be with them.

The two met during intelligence training, served several tours in the Middle East each, and met up Friday for a 10-hour drive here to commemorate the day.

Gruters's grandfather K.K. McRoyan came ashore with the 1st Infantry Division on D-Day. The older man had intended to visit this cemetery on the invasion's 50th anniversary, Gruters said, but died before he could.

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