- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — President Bush yesterday stood over the beaches of Normandy, where 60 years ago thousands of Americans died to liberate France from Nazi Germany, and said the United States would “do it again for our friends.”

Mr. Bush concluded his speech before more than 15 foreign leaders, several of whom disapproved of the U.S.-led effort to liberate Iraq from dictator Saddam Hussein, by paying tribute to the aging war veterans and their perished comrades.

“America honors all the liberators who fought here in the noblest of causes, and America would do it again for our friends. May God bless you,” said Mr. Bush, who has used a trip to Italy and his stop in Normandy to connect World War II with the U.S.-led removal of Saddam.

“The nations that battled across the continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace. And our great alliance of freedom is strong, and it is still needed today,” he said yesterday.

The president was joined by French President Jacques Chirac at the D-Day ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute, a flyover by four fighter jets and a lone trumpeter playing a funereal taps.

The French president, who on Saturday harshly criticized Mr. Bush for the U.S. intervention in Iraq and denied any World War II parallels, yesterday offered effusive praise both to the men who freed his country from Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s grip and to the United States.

“France will never forget. She will never forget that 6th of June, 1944, the day hope was reborn and rekindled. She will never forget those men who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity and its murderous folly,” Mr. Chirac said.

“Nor will it ever forget its debt to America, its everlasting friend,” he said.

With thousands of stooped, old men who were once young soldiers gathered in the American cemetery on what for many will be their last decade-anniversary of D-Day, the president said “time and providence have brought them back to see once more the beaches and the cliffs.”

“Generations to come will know what happened here, but these men heard the guns. Visitors will always pay respects at this cemetery, but these veterans come looking for a name, and remembering faces and voices from a lifetime ago. Today, we honor all the veterans of Normandy and all their comrades who never left,” Mr. Bush said.

With thousands of tiny U.S. and French flags, planted at the foot of 9,387 white marble tombstones, waving in the breeze on a cloudless day, Mr. Bush was choked with emotion as he recounted the story of Sgt. Earl Parker of Bedford, Va.

Sgt. Parker showed his band of brothers a picture of Danny, his newborn daughter whom he had never held, before he went onto Omaha Beach.

“He told the fellows, ‘If I could see this daughter of mine, I wouldn’t mind dying.’ Sgt. Parker is remembered here at the Garden of the Missing. And he is remembered back home by a woman in her 60s, who proudly shows a picture of her handsome, smiling, young dad,” the president said, his voice breaking as some grizzled veterans wiped away tears.

Exactly 60 years ago, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower launched Operation Overlord, which sent 5,000 ships from southern England against the coast of France. On that day, some 150,000 U.S., British, Canadian and other allied soldiers began a relentless assault that relied upon taking the beaches of Normandy, where Hitler least expected an attack.

“This operation is planned as a victory, and that’s the way it is going to be,” the general told his troops before they set out to sea.

But from the start, “it was a fouled-up mess,” said Lester Baumann, 83, of Parma, Ohio, who was one of the first wave of soldiers in at Omaha Beach.

An enlisted man with a naval combat demolition unit, his task was to clear obstacles from the landing area so troop transports could land.

“Everything went wrong from the beginning,” said Mr. Baumann, who attended yesterday’s ceremony at the American cemetery. “We hit a sandbar, were off course and then the machine guns started. I was wounded a couple of hours into the battle by a shell that killed four Americans and wounded five others. We didn’t think we’d ever get out of here.”

Mr. Baumann said returning to Omaha Beach “brings back a lot of memories, good and bad. A lot of good men died here, but we won.”

The landing by regiments of the 1st and 29th Infantry divisions and Army Rangers on Omaha Beach began at 6:30 a.m. Cloud cover had prevented aerial attacks on German machine-gun positions and fortified pillboxes, which were perched on the steep cliffs, some as high as a 20-story building.

U.S. troops who made it to the shore aboard landing crafts were slaughtered — sometimes by the shipful — as others went overboard to avoid the massacre. Soon after, the sea turned red with blood.

U.S. forces had a far easier time taking a beach west of Omaha — Utah. British troops battled and secured beachheads dubbed Gold and Sword, as Canadian troops took Juno Beach. Two months later, Allied forces liberated Paris.

Queen Elizabeth II opened the ceremony at Juno Beach to thank them for their sacrifices.

“Britain had been directly threatened by the enemy, but you came across the Atlantic from the relative security of your homeland to fight for the freedom of Europe,” the queen said.

Mr. Bush praised all Allied nations for their sacrifice.

“Across Europe, Americans shared the battle with Britons, Canadians, Poles, free French and brave citizens from other lands taken back one by one from Nazi rule. In the trials and total sacrifice of the war, we became inseparable allies. The nations that liberated a conquered Europe would stand together for the freedom of all of Europe,” the president said.

Actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg, who collaborated on the film “Saving Private Ryan,” attended the event.

“This is amazing,” Mr. Hanks told The Washington Times. “It’s history. All these guys are our extended family. It’s their day. We’re here to celebrate them.”

Vic Eskridge, 80, of Independence, Mo., said D-Day at Omaha was “just like ‘Private Ryan.’ ” He was a member of the 147th Engineers Corps and said as his boat approached the shore, “everybody was sick, vomiting. We’d rise up 10 feet and then drop.

“We were young men when we came here. We didn’t know when we did this that it would be so historic.”

Mr. Eskridge, who has attended the 40th, 50th and 60th anniversary, said “this is a great celebration. It’s great to be here, and I hope to come back next time.”

After the anniversary at Normandy, the president and leaders from 16 other countries attended a massive ceremony at Arromanches. There, Mr. Chirac honored 14 veterans from as many nations with the Legion of Honor, France’s most prestigious award.

Also at that ceremony was Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the first German leader to attend the D-Day ceremonies in France. Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended the pomp-filled ceremony in Arromanches, where Allied forces built the largest ever artificial port near the midpoint of the five code-named beaches.

The ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute from a ship in the small port and flyovers by dozens of fighter jets from nations that participated in the 1944 offensive, drew heavy security.

Thousands of police lined the streets, but despite pledges by terrorists to hit high-profile events, the ceremony went off without a hitch.



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