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Obama Salutes D-Day Veterans at Normandy Ceremony

Friday, June 06, 2014

By Samantha L. Quigley  

On June 6, 1944, Omaha Beach was a violent scene as 159,000 Allied forces came ashore to oust the Germans entrenched atop the cliffs of Normandy, France. The weather mirrored the dark day to come. With low visibility and strong tides, it seemed like there was more than one enemy to fight.

Seventy years later at the Normandy American Cemetery, the only indication of the violence predicated here are the 9,000 white stone markers, each bearing the name of an American who gave his last full measure to ensure the world remained free. 

Gone are the horrors of war and the blood-soaked sand. Today, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the blue skies provided a perfect backdrop and peace and calm punctuated the day. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande came together to remember the men who died that day and honor those who survived.

The solemn ceremony recognized the D-Day veterans who Obama lauded as boys who returned home as heroes.

“Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men,” he said. Men like Wilson “Bill” Cowell, who dropped out of school to join the military. He wanted to become a pilot, but was rejected because he hadn’t finished school. So he decided jumping out of planes would scratch the itch. He was 16 when he jumped on Omaha Beach with the 101st Airborne Division.

Cowell and others came home and quietly moved on with their lives, never acting like the heroes they were, Obama said.

Hollande, too, expressed extreme gratitude for and appreciation of the Allied forces that liberated France, as well as the United States. The Germans, he said, were sure of themselves.

“They believed they would repel all assaults thanks to the bunkers,” he said. “They hadn’t reckoned with the fact that in democracies, an ideal gives great courage.”

Hollande extended his praise extended to the United States, calling the nation a friend France has been able to count on for 70 years.

“Mr. President, I will reiterate the oath of my predecessors here. We will never forget!”

And for the veterans who were here all those years ago and returned for today’s ceremony and found themselves sitting on stage with both presidents, they know they aren’t forgotten by those they liberated in 1944. Old, young, man, woman – it doesn’t matter. 

To the residents of Normandy, these men who risked everything rank above rock stars. Here, the history of D-Day is not relegated to the pages of a musty history book. The older ones remember the German invasion of their homeland and teach the younger generations why they must never forget.

Hollande summed it up in a sentence that speaks volumes.

“We were raised with the idea that for everything to change, nothing should be forgotten.”

 

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