Archive for Monday, May 27, 2002

Bush makes Memorial Day tour of Normandy, D-Day beaches

May 27, 2002


— Standing among the graves of American soldiers killed in the liberation of France in World War II, U.S. President George W. Bush pledged Monday that the United States will never forget those who perished on the beaches of Normandy "for the future of humanity."

Bush spoke at the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,387 Americans killed in the war are buried. The cemetery sits near the beaches of Normandy, where U.S. troops landed in the June 1944 D-Day invasion.

"Our wars have won for us every hour we live in freedom," Bush said. "Our wars have taken from us the men and women we honor today, and every hour of the lifetimes they had hoped to live."

The same is true now, Bush said, with the U.S.-led military campaign that pushed the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan.

"For some military families in America and in Europe, the grief is recent with the losses we have suffered in Afghanistan," Bush said.

Roiling clouds, and intermittent rain added a touch of sadness to the ceremony. Bush strode alone among painfully neat rows of thousands of bone-white crosses or Stars of David, each decorated with two flags, one American, one French.

"Each person buried here understood his duty, but also dreamed of going back home to the people and things he knew," Bush said. "The day will come when no one is left who knew them. ... The day will never come when America forgets them.

"Our nation, and the world, will always remember what they did here, what they gave here, for the future of humanity," he said.

Fifty-eight years ago, the fight to liberate Europe from the Nazis formed a bond between the United States and France, which then spread throughout Europe, "turning enemies to friends, and the pursuits of war to the pursuits of peace," Bush said.

That bond is renewed today, Bush said, as European nations join with the United States in the struggle to rid the world of terrorism.

After the speech, Bush and French President Jacques Chirac laid two wreaths, floral arrangements of the U.S. and French flags, at a memorial for the fallen combatants. After a moment of silence, the national anthems of both countries were played, followed by a 21-gun salute, a military fly-over and a mournful rendition of "Taps" by a lone bugler.

Bush paid his cemetery tribute after attending a service at the Church of Notre Dame de la Paix in nearby Sainte-Mere-Eglise. He was greeted by local dignitaries and joined Chirac at the service.

Several hundred people lined the streets of the town. Exuberant children chanted "Chirac and George Bush" as they waved U.S. and French flags. U.S. Army Chaplain Kevin Leideritz, a World War II veteran, led the service in prayer and called the town "a community with such history and deep emotion."

The last visit to Normandy by a U.S. president was in 1994, when then-President Bill Clinton went there to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

Sainte-Mere-Eglise is just a few miles (kilometers) from Utah Beach, one of five beaches where American, British and Canadian troops landed by the tens of thousands on D-Day.

During Sunday's joint news conference in Paris, Chirac saluted Bush for spending the American Memorial Day holiday, which honors military veterans, in Normandy paying "solemn tribute to the great number of young American servicemen who gave up their lives to fight for France, for Europe, for freedom."

"This fight for freedom, for liberty, is a constant fight, a fight that we all engage in; a fight that is a bond between the peoples of both sides of the Atlantic," Chirac said.

He added that it was also "a fight that is pursued still today ... the fight against terrorism."

The visit came as Bush proceeded with his weeklong tour of Europe.

Late Monday, he was to fly to Rome, where he was to participate in a NATO-Russia meeting on Tuesday and visit Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

Earlier, he visited Germany and Russia.

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