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'Our debt to you is everlasting': Trump and Macron thank veterans on D-Day 75th anniversary

'Our debt to you is everlasting': Leaders thank veterans on D-Day 75th anniversary

 President Emmanuel Macron of France and American President Donald Trump shake hands following Macron’s speech at the 75th anniversary of D-Day ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes
President Emmanuel Macron of France and American President Donald Trump shake hands following Macron’s speech at the 75th anniversary of D-Day ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

By John Vandiver

Stars and Stripes


COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — President Donald Trump honored the American and Allied troops who stormed the beaches on D-Day 75 years ago to free Europe from Nazi domination, telling the veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery on Thursday that “our debt to you is everlasting.”

Standing before a contingent of D-Day veterans, Trump recounted the heroics of the survivors and the thousands of Americans buried beneath the white crosses and Stars of David that stretch for acres on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

“For the men who sit behind me, and for the boys who rest in the field before me, your example will never ever grow old,” Trump said. “The blood that they spilled, the tears that they shed, the lives that they made, the sacrifices that they made will not just roll on. Those who fought here won the future for our nation.”

Trump described the many thousands of servicemembers who participated in the invasion as “the pride of our nation … the glory of our republic.”

Trump joined other world leaders and surviving veterans to remember those who died in the greatest amphibious invasion in history, which led to the liberation of Western Europe after four years of Nazi occupation.

“On 6 June 1944, they joined a liberation force of awesome power and breathtaking scale,” Trump told the gathering at the military cemetery. “After months of planning, the Allies had chosen this ancient coastline to mount their campaign to vanquish the wicked tyranny of the Nazi empire from the face of the earth.

“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he said. Trump also praised all of the allies who took part in the landings, including the British, Canadians, Poles and French.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived by helicopter at the cemetery, where he and his wife greeted the president and Melania Trump. France has not forgotten “what we owe to the United States of America,” Macron said.

“We know what we owe to you veterans — our freedom,” Macron told the veterans lining the stage. “On behalf of my nation, I want to say thank you.

“The lessons of Colleville-sur-Mer are that liberty and democracy are inseparable.”

The French president also spoke of the value of alliances that grew out of World War II, such as NATO, and the need for continued American leadership today.

“The U.S. is never greater than when it is fighting for the freedom of others,” Macron said.

Veteran memories

The D-Day battle came at a terrible cost, especially for the first wave of American troops landing at Omaha Beach. In all, more than 4,400 troops died during D-Day and some 10,000 were injured. The casualties would increase in the days after the beach landing as the Allies fought their way inland.

About 50 D-Day veterans gathered in Normandy to mark the anniversary of the allied invasion of France, which helped turn the tide of the war.

Warren Goss, 94, said for years he suffered nightmares from the fighting. “It was terrible and they didn’t have anything for it in those days, for [post-traumatic stress disorder],” Goss said.

Goss was among the first soldiers to land on Utah Beach. His job was to secure the beachhead so engineers could clear the beaches for landing supplies. When he went home after the war, having also fought at the Battle of the Bulge, there wasn’t a lot of sympathy for what he had endured.

“The day I came home my father told me to go out and get a job. ‘No one is going to feel sorry for you,’ he said. And he was right,” Goss said during a visit to the American cemetery.

Goss moved on with life, starting a family and homebuilding business, but the nightmares continued. Years ago, however, he traveled to the American cemetery with his children and grandchildren, which he said began the healing process.

“It changed my whole life,” Goss said. “I came with my whole family and I watched the kids play on the beach and it changed everything for me. Once in a great while I still have dreams, but not often.”

Carl Felton, 93, also made the trip to Normandy. During the invasion, he served as a signal man in a communication ship 100 yards off Omaha Beach. The USS Susan B. Anthony sunk right next to his ship after hitting a mine. While those sailors were saved, dead bodies from the invasion force were floating everywhere.

“It feels very solemn to be here. I am thinking about all the loss of life. For those that were once alive, walking around, hoping for the future,” Felton said. “I am also thinking about all the wives, mothers, fathers, children, left behind.”

More than 9,380 American war dead, mostly from the D-Day invasion and ensuing battles, are buried at the cemetery.

William Galbraith, 95, said the commemoration of the battle has motivated him to live.

“It’s what’s keeping me alive — to come back here,” said Galbraith, who was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne on D-Day and landed behind enemy lines.

One of the things that surprised him that day were the German tracers in the night sky.

“Every caliber must have had a different color,” he said. “Green, blue, all different. I just didn’t expect that.”

Standing under the statue 'Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,' President Donald Trump and World War II veterans and their families listen to the national anthem at the 75th anniversary of D-Day ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on June 6, 2019. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes
Standing under the statue 'Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,' President Donald Trump and World War II veterans and their families listen to the national anthem at the 75th anniversary of D-Day ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on June 6, 2019. Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

‘The free world salutes you’

As the ceremony began, Gen. Dwight D Eisenhower’s voice carried over the speakers as screens flashed images from the battlefield.

“Your task will not be an easy one,” Eisenhower said in his message to the troops that day. Then the audience, stretching into the distance, arose in sustained applause as the faces of the D-Day vets in attendance panned across the screens.

Thousands of U.S. troops also were on hand for the ceremony, which was punctuated by volleys of ceremonial cannon fire and flyovers by allied fighter planes.

“This is our history, especially for us in U.S. Army Europe,” said USAREUR chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, whose command wears the patch of Eisenhower’s Army. “It was a great allied endeavor and it was a hard allied endeavor.”

For Cavoli, the boldness of the D-Day invasion still shocks. From his hotel in Normandy, Cavoli said he looked up at the night sky, which in northern France sets late.

“It was about 12:30 a.m. I was looking out the window and it was still nearly light out. It was like twilight. That’s just a little before the Pathfinders started jumping,” he said. “Holy smokes, it wasn’t as dark as you think. They could be seen.”

On a previous visit, Cavoli said he walked in the footsteps of the troops who landed at Omaha Beach.

“I walked down to the water. It’s about 400 yards out,” Cavoli recalled. “You get to the water line and turn around and look across a quarter mile of flat, rock-hard sand and open expanse.”

After making the run, D-Day troops were rewarded with “a little shingle of rock about 3-feet-high” to hide behind.

“The next thing you have to do is climb up a 200-foot bluff that is full of machine guns,” Cavoli said. “The audacity to do that.”

Today, at the top of the bluff are the grave markers.

“You are just overwhelmed because walking up you try to experience what these guys did and you see the result, the sacrifices.”

Trump also recounted numerous examples of troops traversing the beach.

The GIs that boarded landing craft carried “on their shoulders the fate of the world,” Trump said.

One of the vets singled out by Trump was former Army medic Ray Lambert, 98, who was in the first wave of troops to land at Omaha. Trump recounted the heroics of the former soldier, who was wounded twice in the invasion and is credited with saving more than a dozen lives as he rescued drowning men, while shielding and treated others.

“Ray, the free world salutes you,” Trump told Lambert.

vandiver.john@stripes.com


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 6, 2019