COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France --On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, President Obama paid tribute to the World War II veterans who partook in the mission that marked a turning point in the war and defined a generation.
"These men waged war so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we'd no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them," President Obama said to sustained applause at the Normandy American Cemetery.
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"It was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom," Obama said. "What more powerful manifestation of America's commitment to human freedom than the sight of wave after wave of young men boarding those boats to liberate people they'd never met?"
With World War II veterans seated behind him, the president described the tense scenes of the day when over 150,000 allied troops invaded the shores of Normandy 70 years ago.
"If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world," the president said. "Captains paced their decks. Pilots tapped their gauges. Commanders pored over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong: the winds, the tides, the element of surprise - and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead."
"Fresh-faced GIs rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and re-checked their equipment. 'God,' asked one, 'Give me guts.' And in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways; gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky; giant screws began to turn on an armada that looked like more ships than sea. And more than 150,000 souls set off towards this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but the course of human history," he said.
President Obama tied the commitment of the World War II veterans to the service of the 9/11 generation.
"This 9/11 Generation of service members - they, too, felt some tug; they answered some call; they said 'I'll go.' They too chose to serve a cause that's greater than self; many even after they knew they'd be sent into harm's way. And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour," he said.
Also in attendance was Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, the severely wounded Army Ranger that President Obama honored at the State of the Union in January.
When the speech concluded, President Obama shook hands with veterans before laying a wreath in honor of the veterans who served and troops currently serving with French President Francois Hollande. It was followed by a 21-gun salute, the playing of Taps, and a military flyover.
Following the ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, President Obama will attend a luncheon for heads of state at Chateau de Benouville, where Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in attendance. Later in the afternoon, President Obama will attend the international ceremony at Sword Beach.