The President of the United States, Barack Obama, declared he was honoured to return to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day and said those who fought for freedom then and now should never be forgotten.
He paid tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied danger and also mentioned American soldiers who have fought in conflicts around the world since and also today.
He told 10,000 gathered at the American cemetery in Colleville that just last week he received a letter from a French citizen. ‘Dear Mr. President and the American people, we are honoured to welcome you, to thank you again for all the pain and efforts of the American people and others in our common struggle for freedom,’ he explained.
‘Today, we say the same to the people of France. Thank you, especially, for the generosity you’ve shown the Americans who’ve come here over the generations to these beaches, and to this sacred place of rest for 9,387 Americans,’ Obama said.
Speaking outdoors in front of the rows of white crosses that mark the fallen, he continued: ‘At the end of the war, when our ships set off for America filled with our fallen, tens of thousands of liberated Europeans turned out to say farewell. And they pledged to take care of the more than 60,000 Americans who would remain in cemeteries on this continent as if, in the words of one man, their tombs were our children’s. You have kept your word, like the true friends you are. We are forever grateful,’ said the American President.
‘Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are; we don’t just honour sacrifice, as grateful as the world is; we come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril. And we come to tell the story of the men and women who did it, so that it remains seared into the memory of the future world.
‘We tell this story for the old soldiers who pull themselves a little straighter today to salute brothers who never made it home. For the daughter who clutches a faded photo of her father, forever young. For the child who runs his fingers over colourful ribbons he knows signify something of great consequence even if he doesn’t yet know why. We tell this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the boys from America reached Omaha Beach,’ he continued.
‘We are on this Earth for only a moment in time. And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago. So we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for. We have to honour those who carry forward that legacy today, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it,’ he added.
He talked about the service personnel of today. ‘As wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform. They, too, will build families and lives of their own. They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in politics, in commerce and industry, the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time. God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped keep free.
And someday, future generations, whether 70 or 700 years hence, will gather at places like this to honour them and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known,’ President Obama told the audience who remained silent but alert in what is one of Normandy’s most respected war memorials, much visited due to the sheer scale with white crosses extending as far as the eye can see on a cliff top above the beach that claimed so many young lives.
‘May God bless our veterans and all who served with them, including those who rest here in eternal peace. And may God bless all who serve today for the peace and security of our world,’ he added.
At the ceremony French President Francois Hollande said that France must ‘never forget what it owes the United States. He thanked the Americans and added; ‘Today is a memorable day in our history when our two peoples together in one fight, that of liberty.’