- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

PARIS President Bush yesterday paid solemn tribute to Allied troops killed on the beaches of Normandy and drew a modern-day parallel to those who had fallen in Afghanistan.
"We are here to pay tribute to those who sacrificed for freedom, both Americans and the French," Mr. Bush said at a church in Ste. Mere-Iglese, the first French town liberated by the Allied invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944. "It is fitting that we remember those who sacrificed because today we defend our freedoms.
"We defend our freedoms against people who can't stand freedom," he said. "This defense will require the sacrifice of our forefathers, but it's a sacrifice I can promise you we'll make."
Several hundred of Ste. Mere-Iglese's 1,612 townspeople gathered in the square to meet Mr. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac. Clutching flowers and small American flags, they smiled and chanted, "Chirac, George Bush," as the presidents entered the tall stone church.
A dummy tangled in a parachute hung from a church steeple, creating an eerie spectacle under gloomy skies. It was a memorial to Pvt. John Steel, one of the few who was not fatally shot by Germans as the paratroopers descended in the hours before the main invasion. Pvt. Steel's chute became caught on the steeple, and he survived by pretending to be dead.
Inside the church, three French firemen from the town stood at attention in full dress uniform, complete with red scarves and chrome helmets, in honor of the American firemen who died in New York on September 11.
More than 6,000 U.S. troops were killed or wounded on D-Day, the opening day of Operation Overlord, as the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe was code-named. A total of 156,000 Allied troops took part in the largest amphibious attack in history to breach Adolf Hitler's Atlantic wall on the northern coast of France.
Chaplain Kevin Leideritz of the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry (Airborne) a unit that traced its origins to the "Red Devils" of the 82nd Airborne Division that took part in the Normandy invasion lauded the bravery of Americans who died in World War II and other wars.
"They didn't want to die but chose death to taking the easy way out," he told the packed church.
He closed the service by suggesting the war against terrorism was far from over.
"The future is uncertain," the chaplain said. "In one way or another, the future will call us all to duty. Will we be ready?
"God and country look to us to live with honor. Will we?" he added. "Can we give of ourselves in sacrifice as soldiers did years ago?"
After the service, Mr. Bush rode a helicopter to Normandy for a rain-soaked ceremony commemorating Memorial Day. He toured the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooking the Omaha Beach landing site.
"Words can only go so far in capturing the grief and sense of loss for the families of those who died in all our wars," Mr. Bush said. "For some military families in America and in Europe, the grief is recent, with the losses we have suffered in Afghanistan.
"They can know, however, that the cause is just and, like other generations, these sacrifices have spared many others from tyranny and sorrow."
At one point, Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, walked hand in hand to a grassy bluff and looked over the ocean that was black with landing craft nearly 58 years ago.
The only sounds were the waves rolling to shore far below the cliffs on which so many Americans died and the quiet strains of "America the Beautiful" from a military band above.
"Only a man who is there, charging out of a landing craft, can know what it was like," the president said. "For the entire liberating force, there was only the ground in front of them no shelter, no possibility of retreat.
"They were part of the largest amphibious landing in history and perhaps the only great battle in which the wounded were carried forward," he added.
Mr. Bush, who had expressed irritation at media descriptions of widespread anti-Americanism in Europe, made a point of articulating the historic bond between the two continents.
"Here, as we stand today, the New World came back to liberate the old," he said. "A bond was formed of shared trial and shared victory.
"And a light that scattered darkness from these shores and across France would spread to all of Europe, in time turning enemies into friends and the pursuits of war into the pursuits of peace," he said. "Our security is still bound up together in a trans-Atlantic alliance, with soldiers in many uniforms defending the world from terrorists at this very hour."
On the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984, President Reagan spoke at Normandy, providing a reminder during the Cold War that Americans "bled and died here for a few feet or inches of sand" but did so "not as conquerors but as liberators."
When President Clinton spoke at Normandy in 1994 on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings, he was criticized by many veterans groups, who pointed out that Mr. Clinton had avoided military service in Vietnam.
In a TV interview at the time, Mr. Clinton defended his opposition to the Vietnam war but said, "I think that military service is an honorable thing, and it's something that, in that sense, I wish I had experienced."
Yesterday, Mr. Bush walked among the rows of white marble crosses and Stars of David that marked the graves of more than 9,300 American troops, including 307 unknowns, killed in Normandy during and after the D-Day landing. Air Force jets flew overhead in the "missing man" formation.
"The grave markers here all face west, across an ageless and indifferent ocean to the country these men and women served and loved," the president said. "The thoughts of America on this Memorial Day turn to them and to all their fallen comrades in arms.
"We think of them with lasting gratitude; we miss them with lasting love; and we pray for them," he concluded. "And we trust in the words of the almighty God, which are inscribed in the chapel nearby: 'I give unto them eternal life, that they shall never perish.'"


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