Overlooking the hallowed beaches of the D-Day invasion, President Trump on Thursday paid tribute to the heroism of U.S. and Allied troops who landed in Normandy, France, during World War II, calling them “among the very greatest Americans who will ever live.”
At the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, Mr. Trump joined French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders to honor the service members on the 75th anniversary of the pivotal battle of June 6, 1944.
Mr. Trump hailed Americans who left “farms of a vast heartland” and the “streets of glowing cities” to turn back the Nazi menace at Normandy, as the roar of jets, boom of a 21-gun salute and standing ovations marked the D-Day tributes.
“You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of the republic, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Mr. Trump said as the crowd stood to applaud.
In Washington, a ceremony was held near the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where lawmakers previewed a temporary plaque inscribed with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s D-Day prayer.
“D-Day was a day of monumental loss and monumental triumph,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican. “The fate of the free world rested on the shoulders of the brave young men charging onto the beaches of Normandy, and President Roosevelt’s prayer that day helped to comfort the nation in a time of great uncertainty.”
A permanent plaque will be placed at the site later.
The human toll of one of the largest military operations in history was sobering. In the first 24 hours, 4,414 Allied service members, including 2,501 Americans, were killed, according to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
A total of 9,388 Americans are buried at Normandy, their graves marked in regimented rows of mostly white crosses.
Mr. Trump, who is sometimes skeptical of sweeping alliances, spoke of one global family on that day, hailing the “fighting Poles,” “tough Norwegians,” “intrepid Aussies” and the “gallant French commanders” who fought with the Americans during the Allied invasion.
“Today, America embraces the French people and thanks you for honoring our beloved dead,” Mr. Trump said. “To all 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.”
Even some of Mr. Trump’s harshest critics such as MSNBC host Joe Scarborough praised the president’s speech as one of his best, saying he rose to the historic moment.
But at a campaign event in Georgia, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden said Mr. Trump is undermining NATO, which he called one of the Allies’ finest accomplishments after liberating Europe and winning World War II.
“What’s he doing? He’s destroying NATO,” said Mr. Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. “If he gets reelected, watch: NATO will be disintegrated.”
Mr. Biden added with a sigh that the president was “tweeting about Bette Midler” while overseas to honor the war dead.
Presidential candidate and Iraq War veteran Rep. Seth Moulton, Massachusetts Democrat, praised Mr. Trump for being “fairly presidential” at the D-Day anniversary ceremony, but he criticized the president for speaking about “unbreakable bonds” among allies.
“It’s important to remember bonds are breakable,” Mr. Moulton said. “One of our most important allies in the Second World War was Russia, then they became our enemy, our greatest enemy of the last 75 years. So trust among allies matters, keeping up relationships and keeping up the bonds that we have built over the decades matters. This president has failed to do that.”
Mr. Macron paid tribute to the Americans who rushed their shores “to free the villages of Normandy and would go through the hell of combat of the countryside.”
“I bow down before their bravery,” he said.
He also reminded the audience of the postwar alliances that have sustained peace.
“We shall never cease to perpetuate the alliances of free people. That is what the United States did when it created the North Atlantic Treaty. That is what the leaders of Europe did in becoming the European Union,” Mr. Macron said. “France wishes to support the promises of Normandy. The lessons of Colleville-sur-Mer are clear: Liberty and democracy are inseparable.”
But the stars of the occasion were the 170 elderly men who survived the invasion and joined world leaders. They represented the invasion force of nearly 150,000 troops from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other nations.
Mr. Trump lauded former Army medic Arnold Raymond “Ray” Lambert, who served in the 16th Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 1st Division, known as “The Big Red One.”
Now 98, Mr. Lambert tipped his cap to the president and said it was likely the last time he would go to Normandy. The president shook his hand.
Mr. Trump also singled out Russell Pickett, now 94, who at 19 years old was tasked with using a flame thrower to protect his fellow infantry brothers as they came ashore.
“Tough guy,” Mr. Trump said. “You honor us all with your presence.”
The ceremony was capped by awe-inspiring jet flyovers, which Mr. Trump watched alongside first lady Melania Trump, Mr. Macron and the French first lady, Brigitte Macron.
“We are gathered here on freedom’s altar,” Mr. Trump said. “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.”
Mr. Macron told American D-Day veterans that “France doesn’t forget” their sacrifice for his country’s liberty.
“We know what we owe to you veterans: our freedom,” Mr. Macron said. “On behalf of my nation, I just want to say, ‘Thank you.’”
Mr. Trump, who participated in a D-Day commemoration in Portsmouth, England, on Wednesday, said in France that America’s veterans are the pride of the U.S. “You are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live,” he said.
Later, in a one-on-one meeting in Caen, Mr. Trump recounted the invasion story with Mr. Macron. He marveled how units charged ashore in wave after wave, knowing that many of them would be killed.
“It’s like a dam. They broke through,” Mr. Trump said. “Seldom in history has there been anything like it.”
⦁ Bailey Vogt contributed to this report.