- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

OMAHA BEACH, France| President Obama standing above the Normandy beaches where tens of thousands of Allied soldiers stormed ashore 65 years ago to begin an operation that cost nearly 10,000 American soldiers’ lives said Saturday that the D-Day invasion helped defeat Nazi Germany’s evil ideology bent on ruling the world.

Before a throng of elderly heroes some stooped, some in wheelchairs, nearly all white-haired the president said World War II brought a clarity of purpose, unlike the troubled state of the world today.

We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true. It is a world of varied religions and cultures and forms of government. In such a world, it’s all too rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity. The Second World War did that, he said.

For what we faced in Nazi totalitarianism was not just a battle of competing interests. It was a competing vision of humanity. Nazi ideology sought to subjugate, humiliate and exterminate. It perpetrated murder on a massive scale, fueled by a hatred of those who were deemed different and therefore inferior. It was evil.

At the start of the day, Mr. Obama met in nearby Caen with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In an exchange with reporters, Mr. Obama indicated that he was considering stronger responses to what he called North Korean provocations.

The president said he preferred to stick to a diplomatic approach to North Korea after its nuclear and ballistic-missile tests, but showed growing impatience with North Korea and called those tests extraordinarily provocative.

Diplomacy has to involve the other side engaging in a serious way in trying to solve problems, he said. We are going to take a very hard look at how we move forward on these issues, and I don’t think that there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region, and we just react in the same ways.

In Normandy, Mr. Obama spoke about the heroes of D-Day and, like American presidents before him Ronald Reagan on the 40th anniversary of the invasion, Bill Clinton on the 50th, George W. Bush on the 60th the president told personal stories of the bravery that day, and one about a man who did not live to see Saturday’s ceremony.

Jim Norene, a member of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, had come alone for one last anniversary, despite having stage-four advanced cancer.

Last night, after visiting this cemetery for one last time, he passed away in his sleep. Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not return. But just as he did 65 years ago, he came anyway. May he now rest in peace with the boys he once bled with, and may his family always find solace in the heroism he showed here, Mr. Obama said.

Unlike former presidents, however, Mr. Obama did not use the day to speak of the current state of the world. While Mr. Reagan explicitly referred to the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Mr. Bush implicitly cited Iraq and the great alliance that is still needed today, Mr. Obama did not speak of the war against terrorism. Nor did he mention the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the struggle against al Qaeda, which seeks to expel U.S. forces from the region and spread fundamentalist Islamic rule. In his 16-minute speech, Mr. Obama returned again and again to the men, then just boys, who stormed the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.

Friends and veterans, we cannot forget what we must not forget is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century. At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found within themselves the ability to do the extraordinary, he said.

Although the celebration has been held every 10 years, officials at the American cemetery moved for a 65th anniversary commemoration because so many WWII veterans are dying estimates run into the thousands each day. On what is considered U.S. soil, thousands gathered on a sunny day to mark the somber occasion and to praise the Allied effort that drove Adolf Hitler from power.

I wish, in the name of France, to pay homage to those of your children who shed their blood on Normandy ground and who rest there for eternity. We will never forget them, Mr. Sarkozy said. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called D-Day the greatest achievement of the Greatest Generation, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who stumbled by calling Omaha Beach Obama Beach paid tribute to the sacrifice and valor of the men who fought there.

The ceremony included a 21-gun salute and a flyover by British, Canadian and U.S. jets, one of which broke formation to fly straight up in what is known as the missing man formation. Thousands of tiny U.S. and French flags, planted at the foot of 9,387 white marble tombstones some marked simply Identity Known Only to God” waved in the breeze. For perspective, nearly twice as many men died in a single day storming the French beaches than have died in Iraq during the six-year war there.

In 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower launched Operation Overlord, which sent 5,000 ships from southern England toward the coast of France, the largest armada the world has ever seen. On that day, some 150,000 U.S., British, Canadian and other Allied troops began a relentless assault to take 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, Gen. Eisenhower told his troops before they set out to sea.

The landing by regiments of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions and Army Rangers on Omaha Beach began at 6:30 a.m. Dense 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. Still, some 11,000 airplanes, including 1,000 heavy bombers, filled the skies.

U.S. troops who made it past hundreds of hedgehog obstacles to the shore aboard landing crafts were slaughtered sometimes by the boatload as others went overboard to avoid the massacre. Soon after, some have said, the sea turned red with blood. U.S. forces had a far easier time taking Utah beach, west of Omaha. British troops battled and secured beachheads dubbed Gold and Sword, as Canadian troops took Juno Beach. Two months later, Allied forces liberated Paris.

When the ships landed here at Omaha, an unimaginable hell rained down on the men inside. Many never made it out of the boats, said Mr. Obama, who also took an aerial view of the beaches by helicopter. The sheer improbability of this victory is part of what makes D-Day so memorable. Long after our time on this Earth has passed, one word will still bring forth the pride and awe of men and women who will never meet the heroes who sit before us: D-Day.

Mr. Obama toured the visitors’ center at the American cemetery and then walked with foreign leaders to an overlook, where Nazi pillboxes still dot the cliffs. There, he met veteran Clyde Combs of Houston, and Benjamin Franklin of Knoxville, Tenn., who joined the Army at age 16 and fought on Omaha Beach.

Asked how it felt to witness this moment 65 years after he stormed the beach as a young sergeant machine-gunner with the assault wave, Mr. Franklin said, I’m glad it’s over. This is the end of my military career. He said for 25 years he has been giving talks and lectures on the experience, but after Saturday’s ceremony, This will be the end. I will go home and relax now.

He was wearing medals he said the French gave him to show their gratefulness for what we did.

Also attending Saturday’s event were former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who was gravely wounded in an Italian battle during World War II, and former Sen. Max Cleland, who lost both legs and his right forearm in the Vietnam War. Also in attendance was actor Tom Hanks, who starred in the film Saving Private Ryan, which vividly depicts that battle at Omaha Beach.

In his speech, Mr. Obama noted that his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, arrived at Normandy six weeks after D-Day and marched across France in Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s army. Attending with Mr. Obama was his great-uncle, Charles Payne, who was part of the first American division to reach and liberate a Nazi concentration camp, which Mr. Obama visited in Germany on Friday.

On the flight back to Paris, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president told him the whole day is special and awe-inspiring.

You can see in the eyes of those [veterans] on the stage how much the whole day meant to them, Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Obama told him.

Joseph Curl in Washington contributed to this report.

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