President Honors Fallen at Normandy
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 6, 2004 President Bush today honored the thousands of soldiers who died during the invasion of Normandy 60 years ago.
During a D-Day ceremony at the American Cemetery in Normandy, where U.S. service members are laid to rest, the president said "generations to come will know what happened here, but these men heard the guns."
The guns he was referring to were along Hitler's Atlantic Wall in World War II: extensive fortifications along the coast, including mines, tanks, trenches and jutting cliffs, gun emplacements, machine gun nests and artillery trained accurately on the Allies landing on the beaches.
"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," Bush said, referring to D-Day veterans in the audience. "Today, we honor all the veterans of Normandy and all their comrades who never left."
During his speech the president told of the horrors of the invasion on June 6, 1944.
"At all the beaches and landing grounds of D-Day, men saw some images they would spend a lifetime preferring to forget," he said. "One soldier carries the memory of three paratroopers dead and hanging from telephone poles 'like a horrible crucifixion scene.' All who fought saw images of pain and death, raw and relentless."
He said that in the first wave of the landing here at Omaha Beach, one unit suffered 91 percent casualties. "As General Omar Bradley later wrote, 'Six hours after the landings, we held only 10 yards of beach.'"
Yet another chilling image the president focused on was that of the beach after the guns were silent.
"This coast, we are told, was lined for miles with the belongings of the thousands who fell," he said.
"There were life belts and canteens and socks and K-rations and helmets and diaries and snapshots. And there were Bibles, many Bibles, mixed with the wreckage of war," he said. "Our boys had carried in their pockets the book that brought into the world this message: 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'"
But the president also spoke of the joy spread across Europe after the liberation. In Amsterdam, a 14-year-old girl heard the news of D-Day over the radio in her attic hiding place, he said. "She wrote in her diary, 'It still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy tale. The thought of friends in delivery fills us with confidence.'"
"Anne Frank even ventured to hope, 'I may yet be able to go back to school in September or October,'" he said.
The president reminded the audience that across Europe, "Americans shared the battle with Britains, Canadians, Poles, free French, and brave citizens from other countries" to take back land from Nazi rule.
"In the trials and total sacrifice of the war, we became inseparable allies," he said. "The nations that liberated a conquered Europe would stand together for the freedom of all of Europe. 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," Bush stated.
"America honors all the liberators who fought here in the noblest of causes, and America would do it again for our friends," he concluded.