|Pix Credit USA Today HERE|
As time moves further and further from the middle of the last century, and as the character of the events that determined the outcome of the last part of the wars that engulfed Europe between 1914 and 1944 increasingly become history rather than experience, one stands at that very brief point in history between living memory (and its immediacy) and and the recording of the memories of those no longer here (and its remoteness in virtually every respect). What is lost between living memory and its recording is intensity and the passion of action without foreknowledge. Memory is in the world; history is an abstract space that sometimes speaks more to the historian than to her object.
It is then worth reading the text of the official pronouncements by high political and military leaders of the nation from the first, grounded in hope and expectation, to the last, in which the immediacy of the events, its passion and vision, was almost a memory, recorded for strangers and available for use projecting forward. That process provides an extraordinary opportunity to reflect of the value of human sacrifice over generations--its fluidity and the that the intensity of blood sacrifices appear to lose their potency as generations unborn, strangers to the events, must seek alternative ways of embedding those sacrifices for the time sin which they live. Here is a chronicle of living semiosis--of the way that signification starts as an object and symbol directly and is then transformed as its meaning becomes embedded in the objectified contexts of those who are strangers to the events but fr whom iys potency may still be embedded. The official pronouncements chosen for this journey are these:
1. President Roosevelt, Radio Address to the Nation 6 June 1944;
2. General Eisenhower's D-Day Order of the Day 6 June 1944;
3. President Eisenhower, Statement by the President on the 10th Anniversary of the Landing in Normandy 6 June 1954;
4. President Johnson, Remarks to Members of the Delegation to the D-Day Ceremonies 3 June 1964;
5. President Reagan, Remarks at a Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, D-day 6 June 1984;
6. President Clinton, Remarks at D-Day 50th Anniversary Ceremony 4 June 1994;
7. President Bush, President Chirac Mark 60th Anniversary of D-Day 4 June 2004;
8. President Obama, Remarks on the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy 4 June 2014;
9. President Trump, Remarks on the 75th Anniversary of the D Day Invasion 4 June 2019.
Perhaps one might, in this way, and at a distance, distill something not just of the times, but of the times in which such a momentous lived experience was relived in increasingly remote memory, and so relived changed and projected forward toward uncertain terrains (Ruminations 78: Reflections on the 74th Anniversary of D-Day; Memory, Remembrance and Recollection).
In that way one might hope to avoid the detached cynicism that comes easily to the elite press when it suits in the great wars to bend the past to the use of the future by the present: "These days, a chronicle of each decade's commemoration of Normandy shows
how the passage of time has softened the pain of the experience, and
how the modern American presidency has evolved into a giant stage
production to promote political goals." (White House Letter; How a Quiet Observance Evolved Into a Day of Drama New York Times 2004). It might also add perspective when a president fails to acknowledge D-Day (here).
President Roosevelt's Text of Radio Address to the Nation 6 June 1944 - Prayer on D-Day, June 6, 1944:
"My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas -- whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them--help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Ladies and gentlemen:
I have a letter here that I am going to present to General Bradley and ask him to take it with him and to read at the ceremonies.
You are leaving tomorrow to cross in peace an ocean hundreds of thousands of Americans have twice crossed before in war. For each of you this must be a mission of remembrance. For your country it is a mission of resolve. You remember, and will never forget, the 6th of June in 1944 when America's sons and those of our gallant allies helped carry freedom back to the continent where it was cradled.
Your country remembers and will never forget, the resolve born on that D-Day, that, so long as we are able, and other men are willing to stand together, we shall not permit the light of freedom to be extinguished on any continent again.
In these last 20 years, we and the world have lived between the darkness of midnight for civilization and the brightness of a new dawn, for the rays of that dawn are piercing through the shadows. For if the world is not so safe as we would like it some day to be, we can believe it is not so dangerous as we once feared it must always be.
The beachheads of Normandy have been opened into beachheads of hope for us all-hope for a world without tyranny, without war, without aggression, without oppression.
In this, the central force for progress has been, and continues to be, the unity and the strength of all nations of the Atlantic Alliance. Out of our alliance in adversity has grown a great partnership for peace and prosperity. On the success of that partnership rests the hopes of men everywhere.
We of America believe their hopes will not be disappointed--because the success of that partnership will not be frustrated. Men and nations which have united among themselves in grave moments of war must not divide among themselves in hopeful hours of peace.
So let all the world know that when this Nation has stood 2,000 years we shall not have forgotten the lands where our sons lie buried, nor the cause for which our sons died. Where we have commitments to the cause of freedom, we shall honor them-today, tomorrow, and always.
Freedom is not the cause of America alone, however, nor the hope of Western man alone. It is the one cause and the one hope which unites in spirit all men around the globe, whatever their country or their color or their creed. After these last 20 years we can believe that freedom is the tide of history-and we of the West stand astride that wave, confident of what lies ahead.
On this anniversary, the memory of yesterday's battles in war only move us all to fight more valiantly today's battles for tomorrow's peace.
I hope your journey will be a pleasant one. I know it will bring back many memories. I look forward to seeing you upon your return.
Thank you very much.
Note: The President spoke late in the afternoon in the Rose Garden at the White House.
On May 23 the President announced that in response to an invitation to the United States Government from the Government of France he had appointed an official delegation to attend the ceremonies which would be held in France June 5, 6, and 7 commemorating the D-Day landings in Normandy 20 years before. Also announced were the names of the 22 members of the delegation, headed by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley who served as personal representative of the President.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Members of the Delegation to the D-Day Ceremonies. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239517
June 6, 1984
We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For 4 long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers -- the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. 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.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your ``lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.''
I think I know what you may be thinking right now -- thinking ``we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.'' Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.
Lord Lovat was with him -- Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, ``Sorry I'm a few minutes late,'' as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.
There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.
All of these men were part of a rollcall of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's ``Matchbox Fleet'' and you, the American Rangers.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.
Something else helped the men of D-day: their rockhard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''
These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.
When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together.
There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall plan led to the Atlantic alliance -- a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.
In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose -- to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.
We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.
It's fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.
We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.
We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We're bound by reality. The strength of America's allies is vital to the United States, and the
American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe's democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.
Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ``I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Thank you very much, and God bless you all.
William J. Clinton
U.S. National Cemetery (Above Omaha Beach)
PRESIDENT: Mr. Dawson, you did your men proud today. General
Shalikashvili, Mr. Cronkite, Chaplain, distinguished leaders of our
government, members of Congress, members of the Armed Services, our
hosts from France, and, most of all, our veterans, their families and
In these last days of ceremonies, we have heard wonderful words of tribute. Now we come to this hallowed place that speaks, more than anything else, in silence. Here on this quiet plateau, on this small piece of American soil, we honor those who gave their lives for us 50 crowded years ago.
Today, the beaches of Normandy are calm. If you walk these shores on a summer's day, all you might hear is the laughter of children playing on the sand, or the cry of seagulls overhead, or perhaps the ringing of a distant church bell -- the simple sounds of freedom barely breaking the silence -- peaceful silence, ordinary silence.
But June 6th, 1944 was the least ordinary day of the 20th century. On that chilled dawn, these beaches echoed with the sounds of staccato gunfire, the roar of aircraft, the thunder of bombardment. And through the wind and the waves came the soldiers, out of their landing craft and into the water, away from their youth and toward a savage place many of them would sadly never leave.
They had come to free a continent -- the Americans, the British, the Canadians, the Poles, the French Resistance, the Norwegians and others -- they had all come to stop one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.
As news of the invasion broke back home in America, people held their breath. In Boston, commuters stood reading the news on the electric sign at South Station. In New York, the Statue of Liberty, its torch blacked out since Pearl Harbor, was lit at sunset for 15 minutes.
And in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, a young mother named Pauline Elliot wrote to her husband, Frank, a corporal in the Army, "D-Day has arrived. The first thought of all of us was a prayer."
Below us are the beaches where Corporal Elliot's batallion and so many other Americans landed -- Omaha and Utah, proud names from America's heartland, part of the biggest gamble of the war, the greatest crusade; yes, the "longest day."
During those first hours on bloody Omaha nothing seemed to go right. Landing craft were ripped apart by mines and shells. Tanks sent to protect them had sunk, drowning their crews. Enemy fire raked the invaders as the stepped into chesthigh water and waded past the floating bodies of their comrades. And as the stunned survivors of the first wave huddled behind a seawall, it seemed the invasion might fail.
Hitler and his followers had bet on it. They were sure the Allied soldiers were soft, weakened by liberty and leisure, by the mingling of races and religion. They were sure their totalitarian youth had more discipline and zeal.
But then, something happened. Although many of the American troops found themselves without officers on unfamiliar ground, next to soldiers they didn't know, one by one, they got up. They inched forward and together in groups of threes and fives and tens, the sons of democracy improvised and mounted their own attacks. At that exact moment on these beaches, the forces of freedom turned the tide of the 20th century.
These soldiers knew that staying put meant certain death. But they were also driven by the voice of free will and responsibility, nurtured in Sunday schools, town halls and sandlot ball games. The voice that told them to stand up and move forward, saying, "You can do it. And if you don't, no one else will." And as Captain Joe Dawson led his company up this bluff, and as others followed his lead, they secured a foothold for freedom.
Today, many of them are here among us. Oh, they may walk with a little less spring in their step and their ranks are growing thinner, but let us never forget -- when they were young, these men saved the world. (Applause.)
And so let us now ask them, all the veterans of the Normandy campaign, to stand if they can and be recognized. (Applause.)
The freedom they fought for was no abstract concept, it was the stuff of their daily lives. Listen to what Frank Elliot had written to his wife from the embarkation point in England: "I miss hamburgers a la Coney Island; American beer a la Duquesne; American shows a la Penn Theater; and American girls a la you."
Pauline Elliot wrote back on June 6th, as she and their one-year old daughter listened on the radio, "Little Deronda is the only one not affected by D-Day news. I hope and pray she will never remember any of this, but only the happiness of the hours that will follow her Daddy's homecoming step on the porch."
Well, millions of our GIs did return home from that war to build up our nations and enjoy life's sweet pleasures. But on this field, there are 9,386 who did not -- 33 pairs of brothers; a father and his son; 11 men from tiny Bedford, Virginia; and Corporal Frank Elliot, killed near these bluffs by a German shell on D-Day.
They were the fathers we never knew, the uncles we never met, the friends who never returned, the heroes we can never repay. They gave us our world. And those simple sounds of freedom we hear today are their voices speaking to us across the years.
At this place, let us honor all the Americans who lost their lives in World War II. Let us remember, as well, that over 40 million human beings from every side perished -- soldiers on the field of battle, Jews in the ghettos and death camps, civilians ravaged by shell fire and famine. May God give rest to all their souls.
Fifty years later, what a different world we live in. Germany, Japan and Italy, liberated by our victory, now stand among our closest allies and the staunchest defenders of freedom. Russia, decimated during the war and frozen afterward in communism and Cold War, has been reborn in democracy. And as freedom rings from Prague to Kiev, the liberation of this continent is nearly complete.
Now the question falls to our generation: How will we build upon the sacrifice of D-Day's heroes? Like the soldiers of Omaha Beach, we cannot stand still. We cannot stay safe by doing so. Avoiding today's problems would be our own generation's appeasements. For just as freedom has a price, it also has a purpose, and it's name is progress. Today our mission is to expand freedom's reach forward; to test the full potential of each of our own citizens; to strengthen our families, our faith and our communities; to fight indifference and intolerance; to keep our nation strong; and to light the lives of those still dwelling in the darkness of undemocratic rule. Our parents did that and more; we must do nothing less. They struggled in war so that we might strive in peace.
We know that progress is not inevitable. But neither was victory upon these beaches. Now, as then, the inner voice tells us to stand up and move forward. Now, as then, free people must choose.
Fifty years ago, the first Allied soldiers to land here in Normandy came not from the sea, but from the sky. They were called Pathfinders, the first paratroopers to make the jump. Deep in the darkness they decended upon these fields to light beacons for the airborne assaults that would soon follow. Now, near the dawn of a n ew century, the job of lighting those beacons falls to our hands.
To you who brought us here, I promise, we will be the new pathfinders, for we are the children of your sacrifice.
Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
11:16 A.M. CET
PRESIDENT OBAMA: President Hollande; to the people of France; friends; the family; our veterans:
If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world.
Captains paced their decks. Pilots tapped their gauges. Commanders pored over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong -- the winds, the tides, the element of surprise -- and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.
Fresh-faced GIs rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and re-checked their equipment. “God,” asked one, “give me guts.” And in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways; gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky; giant screws began to turn on an armada that looked like more ships than sea. And more than 150,000 souls set off towards this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but rather the course of human history.
President Hollande, distinguished guests, I’m honored to return here today to pay tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied every danger -- among them, our veterans of D-Day. And, gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence here today. (Applause.)
Just last week, I received a letter from a French citizen. “Dear Mr. President, and the American people,” he wrote, “[we are] honored 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.”
Today, we say the same to the people of France. Thank you, especially, for the generosity that 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. 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. In the words of one man, we will take care of the fallen “as if their tombs were our children’s.” And the people of France, you have kept your word like the true friends you are. We are forever grateful. (Applause.)
Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are. We don’t just honor 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. We come to tell the story of the men and women who did it so that it remains seared into the memory of a 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. We tell the story for the daughter who clutches a faded photo of her father, forever young; for the child who runs his fingers over colorful ribbons he knows signify something of great consequence, even if he doesn’t yet fully understand why. We tell this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the boys from America reached Omaha Beach.
By daybreak, blood soaked the water, bombs broke the sky. Thousands of paratroopers had dropped into the wrong landing sites; thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand. Entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes. “Hell’s Beach” had earned its name.
By 8:30 a.m., General Omar Bradley expected our troops to be a mile inland. “Six hours after the landings,” he wrote, “we held only ten yards of beach.” In this age of instant commentary, the invasion would have swiftly and roundly been declared, as it was by one officer, “a debacle.”
But such a race to judgment would not have taken into account the courage of free men. “Success may not come with rushing speed,” President Roosevelt would say that night, “but we shall return again and again.” And paratroopers fought through the countryside to find one another. Rangers pulled themselves over those cliffs to silence Nazi guns. To the west, Americans took Utah Beach with relative ease. To the east, the British tore through the coast, fueled by the fury of five years of bombs over London and a solemn vow to “fight them on the beaches.” The Canadians, whose shores had not been touched by war, drove far into France. And here, at Omaha, troops who finally made it to the seawall used it as shelter -- where a general barked, “If you’re Rangers… lead the way!”
By the end of that longest day, this beach had been fought, lost, refought, and won -- a piece of Europe once again liberated and free. Hitler’s Wall was breached, letting loose Patton’s Army to pour into France. Within a week, the world’s bloodiest beach had become the world’s busiest port. Within a month, one million Allied troops thundered through Normandy into Europe, and as our armies marched across the continent, one pilot said it looked “as if the very crust of the Earth had shaken loose.” The Arc de Triomphe lit up for the first time in years, and Paris was punctuated by shouts of “Vive la France!” and “Vive les États-Unis!” (Applause.)
Of course, even as we gather here at Normandy, we remember that freedom’s victory was also made possible by so many others who wore America’s uniform. Two years before he commanded armies, Eisenhower’s troops sliced through North Africa. Three times before D-Day, our GIs stormed the beaches at Sicily, Salerno, Anzio. Divisions like the Fighting 36th brawled their way through Italy, fighting through the mud for months, marching through towns past waving children before opening the gates to Rome. As the “dogfaces” marched to victory in Europe, the Devil Dogs -- the Marines -- clawed their way from island to island in the Pacific, in some of the war’s fiercest fighting. And back home, an army of women -- including my grandmother -- rolled up their sleeves to help build a mighty arsenal of democracy.
But it was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom. What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they had never met?
We say it now as if it couldn’t be any other way. But in the annals of history, the world had never seen anything like it. And when the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory -- we helped Europe rebuild. We claimed no land other than the earth where we buried those who gave their lives under our flag and where we station those who still serve under it. But America’s claim -- our commitment -- to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being -- that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity.
Omaha -- Normandy -- this was democracy’s beachhead. And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity. We worked to turn old adversaries into new allies. We built new prosperity. We stood once more with the people of this continent through a long twilight struggle until finally a wall tumbled down, and an Iron Curtain, too. And from Western Europe to East, from South America to Southeast Asia -- 70 years of democratic movement spread. And nations that once knew only the blinders of fear began to taste the blessings of freedom.
None of that would have happened without the men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they’d never met and ideals they couldn’t live without.
None of it would have happened without the troops President Roosevelt called “the life-blood of America… the hope of the world.”
They left home barely more than boys and returned home heroes. But to their great credit, that is not how this generation carried itself. After the war, some put away their medals, were quiet about their service, moved on. Some, carrying shrapnel and scars, found that moving on was much harder. Many, like my grandfather, who served in Patton’s Army, lived a quiet life, trading one uniform and set of responsibilities for another -- as a teacher, or a salesman, or a doctor, or an engineer, a dad, a grandpa.
Our country made sure millions of them earned a college education, opening up opportunity on an unprecedented scale. And they married those sweethearts and bought new homes and raised families and built businesses, lifting up the greatest middle class the world has ever known. And through it all, they were inspired, I suspect, by memories of their fallen brothers -- memories that drove them to live their lives each day as best they possibly could.
Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men. Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men.
Think of Wilson Colwell, who was told he couldn’t pilot a plane without a high school degree, so he decided to jump out of a plane instead. And he did, here on D-Day, with the 101st Airborne when he was just 16 years old.
Think of Harry Kulkowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants, who fudged his age at enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight. And don’t worry, Harry, the statute of limitations has expired. (Laughter.) Harry came ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day. And now that he’s come back, we said he could have anything he wants for lunch today -- he helped liberate this coast, after all. But he said a hamburger would do fine. (Laughter.) What’s more American than that?
Think of “Rock” Merritt, who saw a recruitment poster asking him if he was man enough to be a paratrooper -- so he signed up on the spot. And that decision landed him here on D-Day with the 508th regiment, a unit that would suffer heavy casualties. And 70 years later, it’s said that all across Fort Bragg, they know Rock -- not just for his exploits on D-Day, or his 35 years in the Army, but because 91-year-old Rock Merritt still spends his time speaking to the young men and women of today’s Army and still bleeds “O.D. Green” for his 82nd Airborne.
Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible -- stop and think of these men.
Wilson and Harry and Rock, they are here today, and although I know we already gave them a rousing round of applause, along with all our veterans of D-Day -- if you can stand, please stand; if not, please raise your hand. Let us recognize your service once more. (Applause.) These men waged war so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we’d no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them. (Applause.)
And, gentlemen, I want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands. For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, a new generation -- our men and women of war -- have chosen to do their part as well.
Rock, I want you to know that Staff Sergeant Melvin Cedillo-Martin, who’s here today, is following in your footsteps. He just had to become an American first -- because Melvin was born in Honduras, moved to the United States, joined the Army. After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne. And Sunday, he’ll parachute into Normandy. (Applause.) “I became part of a family of real American heroes,” he said. “The Paratroopers of the 82nd.”
Wilson, you should know that Specialist Jannise Rodriguez joined the Army not even two years ago, was assigned to the 101st Airborne, and just last month earned the title of the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault Soldier of the Year. And that’s inspiring but not surprising, when the women of today’s military have taken on responsibilities, including combat, like never before. (Applause.)
I want each of you to know that their commitment to their fellow servicemembers and veterans endures. Sergeant First Class Brian Hawthorne’s grandfather served under General Patton and General MacArthur. Brian himself served two tours in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star in Baghdad for saving the life of his best friend, and today, he and his wife use their experience to help other veterans and military families navigate theirs. And Brian is here in Normandy to participate in Sunday’s jump, and here, just yesterday, he reenlisted in the Army Reserve.
And this generation -- this 9/11 Generation of servicemembers -- they, too, felt something. They answered some call; they said “I will go.” They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self -- many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way. And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.
Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg has served ten. And I’ve told Cory’s incredible story before, most recently when he sat with my wife, Michelle, at the State of the Union address. It was here, at Omaha Beach, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, where I first met Cory and his fellow Army Rangers, right after they made their own jump into Normandy. The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, unable to speak or walk after an IED nearly killed him in Afghanistan. But over the past five years, Cory has grown stronger, learning to speak again and stand again and walk again. And earlier this year, he jumped out of a plane again. The first words Cory said to me after his accident echoed those words first shouted all those years ago on this beach: “Rangers lead the way.” (Applause.)
So Cory has come back today, along with Melvin and Jannise and Brian, and many of their fellow active-duty servicemembers. We thank them for their service. They are a reminder that the tradition represented by these gentlemen continues.
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. As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day. 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 honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.
And as today’s wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform, and they, too, will build families and lives of their own. They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in commerce, in industry, and perhaps politics -- the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time. And, God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped to keep free. And someday, future generations, whether 70 or 700 years hence, will gather at places like this to honor 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. (Applause.)
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 the world. May God bless the people of France. And may God bless our United States of America. (Applause.)
11:43 A.M. CET
President Macron, Mrs. Macron, and the people of France, to the First Lady of the United States, and members of the United States Congress, to distinguished guests, veterans and my fellow Americans.
We are gathered here on freedom's altar, on these shores, on these bluffs, on this day 75 years ago, 10,000 men shed their blood, and thousands sacrificed their lives for their brothers, for their countries, and for the survival of liberty.
Today we remember those who fell and we honor all who fought right here in Normandy. They wouldn't back this ground for civilization. To more than one 170 Veterans of the Second World War, who join us today, you are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live. You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Here with you are over 60 veterans who landed on D-Day. Our debt to you is everlasting. Today we express our undying gratitude. When you were young, these men enlisted their lives in a great crusade - one of the greatest of all times. Their mission is the story of an epic battle and a ferocious eternal struggle between good and evil. On the 6th of June, 1944, they joined a liberation force of awesome power and breathtaking scale.
After months of planning, the Allies had chosen this ancient coastline to mount their campaign to vanquish the wicked tyranny of the Nazi empire from the face of the earth.
The battle began in the skies above us. In those first tense midnight hours, 1,000 aircraft roared overhead, with 17,000 allied airborne troops preparing to leap into the dark just beyond these trees. Then came dawn. The enemy who had occupied these heights saw the largest naval armada in the history of the world.
Just a few miles offshore, were 7,000 vessels bearing 130,000 warriors. They were the citizens of free and independent nations united by their duty to their compatriots, and to millions yet unborn.
There were the British, whose nobility and fortitude saw them through the worst of Dunkirk and the London Blitz. The full violence of Nazi fury was no match for the full grandeur of British pride. Thank you.
There were the Canadians, whose robust sense of honor and loyalty compelled them to take up arms alongside Britain from the very, very beginning.
There were the fighting Poles, the tough Norwegians, and the Intrepid Aussies. There were the gallant French commandos soon to be met by thousands of their brave countrymen ready to write a new chapter in the long history of French valor.
And finally, there were the Americans.
They came from the farms of a vast heartland, the streets of glowing cities in the forges of mighty industrial towns. Before the war, many had never ventured beyond their own community. Now they had come to offer their lives half a world from home.
This beach, codenamed Omaha, was defended by the Nazis with monstrous firepower, thousands and thousands of mines and spikes driven into the sands so deeply. It was here that tens of thousands of the Americans came. The G.I's who boarded the landing craft that morning knew that they carried on their shoulders not just the pack of a soldier, but the fate of the world.
Colonel George Taylor, whose 16th infantry regiment would join in the first wave, was asked what would happen if the Germans stopped them, right then and there, cold on the beach, just stopped them. What would happen? This great American replied, "Why the 18th Infantry is coming in right behind us, the 26th infantry will come on too. Then there is the 2nd Infantry Division, already afloat, and the 9th Division and the 2nd Armored and the 3rd Armored, and all the rest. Maybe the 16th won't make it. But someone will".
One of those men, in Taylor's 16th regiment, was Army medic Ray Lambert. Ray was only 23 but he had already earned three Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars fighting in North Africa and Sicily.
Where he and his brother Bill, no longer with us, served side by side. In the early morning hours, the two brothers stood together on the deck of the USS Henrico, before boarding two separate Higgins landing craft.
"If I don't make it," Bill said, "please, please take care of my family". Ray asked his brother to do the same.
Of the 31 men on Ray's landing craft, only Ray and six others made it to the beach. There were only a few of them left. They came to the sector right here below us. Easy Red it was called. Again and again, Ray ran back into the water. He dragged out one man after another. He was shot through the arm, his leg was ripped open by shrapnel, his back was broken, he nearly drowned, he had been on the beach for hours bleeding and saving lives. When he finally lost consciousness, he woke up the next day on a cot, beside another badly wounded soldier. He looked over, and saw his brother Bill. They made it. They made it. They made it. At 98-years-old, Ray is here with us today, with his fourth Purple Heart and his third Silver Star. From Omaha, Ray, the free world salutes you. Thank you Ray.
Nearly two hours in, unrelenting fire from these bluffs kept the Americans pinned down on the sand, now red, with our heroes' blood.
Then, just a few hundred yards from where I'm standing, a breakthrough came. The battle turned, and with it, history.
Down on the beach. Captain Joe Dawson, the son of a Texas preacher, led Company G through a minefield to a natural fold, in the hillside still here.
Just beyond this path to my right. Captain Dawson snuck beneath an enemy machine gun perch, and tossed his grenades. Soon, American troops were charging up "Dawson's draw". What a job he did. What bravery he showed. Lieutenant Spaulding and the men from Company E moved on to crush the enemy strong point on the far side of this cemetery and stop the slaughter on the beach below.
Countless more Americans poured out across this ground all over the countryside. They joined fellow American warriors from Utah Beach, and allies from Juneau, soared in Gold, along with the airborne and the French patriots.
Private First Class Russell Pickett, of the 29th division's famed 116 Infantry Regiment had been wounded in the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach.
At a hospital in England private Pickett vowed to return to battle. "I'm going to return," he said. "I'm going to return".
Six days after D-Day. He rejoined his company. Two-thirds had been killed already. Many had been wounded, within 15 minutes of the invasion. They lost 19 just from the small town of Bedford, Virginia alone. Before long, a grenade left private Pickett and he was gravely wounded. So badly wounded.
Again he chose to return. He didn't care. He had to be here. He was then wounded a third time and laid unconscious for 12 days. They thought he was gone. They felt he had no chance. Russell Pickett. Is the last known survivor of the legendary Company A. And today, believe it or not, he has returned once more to these shores to be with his comrades.
Private Pickett, you honor us all, with your presence. Tough guy.
By the fourth week of August, Paris was liberated.
Some who landed here pushed all the way to the center of Germany. Some threw open the gates of Nazi concentration camps to liberate Jews who had suffered the bottomless horrors of the Holocaust.
And some warriors fell on other fields of battle returning to rest on this soil for eternity.
Before this place was consecrated to history, the land was owned by a French farmer, a member of the French Resistance. These were great people. These were strong and tough people. His terrified wife waited out D-Day in a nearby house holding tight to their little baby girl.
The next day a soldier appeared. "I'm an American," he said. "I'm here to help". The French woman was overcome with emotion and cried. Days later, she laid flowers on fresh American graves. Today her granddaughter Stephanie serves as a guide at this cemetery. This week. Stephanie led 92-year-old Marion Wynn of California to see the grave of her brother Don for the very first time. Marion and Stephanie are both with us today. And we thank you for keeping alive the memories of our precious heroes. Thank you.
9,388 young Americans rest beneath the white crosses and Stars of David, laid on these beautiful grounds. Each one has been adopted by a French family that thinks of him as their own. They come from all over France to look after our boys. They kneel, they cry, they pray, they place flowers and they never forget. Today, America embraces the French people and thanks you for honoring our beloved dead. Thank you.
To all of our friends and partners, our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war, and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable.
From across the Earth, Americans are drawn to this place as though it were a part of our very soul. We come not only because of what they did here, we come because of who they were. They were young men with their entire lives before them. They were husbands who said goodbye to their young brides and took their duty as their fate. They were fathers who would never meet their infant sons and daughters because they had a job to do, and with God as their witness, they were going to get it done.
They came wave after wave without question, without hesitation, and without complaint. More powerful than the strength of American arms was the strength of American hearts. These men ran through the fires of Hell, moved by a force no weapon could destroy. The fierce patriotism of a free, proud and sovereign people.
They battled, not for control and domination, but for liberty, democracy, and self-rule. They pressed on for love and home and country, the main streets, the schoolyards, the churches and neighbors and families and communities that gave us men such as these. They were sustained by the confidence that America can do anything, because we are a noble nation, with a virtuous people, praying to a righteous God. The exceptional might came from a truly exceptional spirit. The abundance of courage came from an abundance of faith.
The great deeds of an army came from the great depths of their love as they confronted their fate, the Americans and the Allies placed themselves into the palm of God's hand. The men behind will tell you that they are just the lucky ones, as one of them recently put it, "all the heroes are buried here". But we know what these men did, we knew how brave they were, they came here and saved freedom, and then they went home and showed us all what freedom is all about.
The American sons and daughters who saw us to victory were no less extraordinary in peace. They built families, they built industries, they built a national culture that inspired the entire world in the decades that followed, America defeated Communism, secured Civil Rights, revolutionized science, launched a man to the Moon and then kept on pushing to new frontiers - and today America is stronger than ever before.
Seven decades ago, the warriors of D-Day fought a sinister enemy who spoke a 1,000-year empire. In defeating that evil, they left a legacy that will last, not only fo1,000 years, but for all time. For as long as the soul knows for duty and for honor, for as long as freedom keeps its hold on the human heart.
To the men who sit behind me and to the boys who rest in the field before, your example will never, ever grow old. Your legend will never die, your spirit, brave, unyielding and true, will never die. The blood that they spilled, the tears that they shed, the lives that they gave, the sacrifice that they made, did not just win a battle. It did not just win a war. Those who fought here won a future for our nation. They won the survival of our civilization, and they showed us the way to love, cherish and defend our way of life for many centuries to come.
Today as we stand together upon this sacred earth, we pledge that our nations will forever be strong and united. We will forever be together, our people will forever be bold, our hearts will forever be loyal, and our children and their children will forever, and always be free. May God bless our great Veterans, may God bless our allies, may God bless the heroes of D-Day, and may God bless America. Thank you. Thank you very much.