Obama Pays Tribute to D-Day Survivors of ‘Unimaginable Hell’
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By Edwin Chen and Julianna Goldman
June 6 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama, in France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day, paid tribute to the allied forces who landed at Normandy and endured “unimaginable hell” to start the liberation of Europe.
“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,” Obama said at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial near Omaha beach, one of the invasion’s landing sites.
Obama is nearing the end of a five-day trip that included visits to Germany, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where he made a much anticipated speech to the Muslim world. Addressing veterans and dignitaries at a windswept, 172-acre cemetery today containing the graves of 9,387 U.S. soldiers, Obama evoked vivid imagery of the D-Day landings in June 1944.
The allied forces were met with “odds that weighed against their success,” Obama said. The paratroopers missed their marks, and fog kept Allied planes from hitting their targets, he said.
“So when the ships landed here at Omaha, an unimaginable hell rained down on the men inside,” he said. “Many never made it out of the boats.”
Obama was accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama. Also at the ceremonies were French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Prince Charles and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He paid tribute to the living survivors of the invasion.
“Perhaps more than any other reason, you, the veterans of that landing, are why we still remember what happened on D- Day,” Obama said. “You are why we come back.”
“For you remind us that in the end, human destiny is not determined by forces beyond our control,” Obama said. “Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made and the actions taken by each individual man or woman. It has always been up to us.”
The president paid tribute to his own relatives who fought in World War II. His grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who fought in Patton’s army, and his great uncle, Charles Payne, who helped liberate Buchenwald, a former Nazi concentration camp that Obama visited yesterday. Payne was at today’s ceremony.
The president is scheduled to return to the U.S. tomorrow while his family will stay on in Paris, according to the White House.
On his fourth trip abroad as president, Obama visited Saudi Arabia, where he spent more than three hours meeting with King Abdullah; Cairo, where he conferred with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; and Dresden, where he held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Obama was also joined today by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired U.S. Army General, and World War II veteran and former Republican senator, Bob Dole.
Before leaving Germany last night, the president stopped at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest American hospital outside the U.S., to visit privately with servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The President awarded Purple Heart awards to six soldiers and marines injured in action.