Flanked by veterans who fought on D-Day, the presidents of the United States and France shared perspectives Friday on the battle that led to victory in the European theatre of World War II.
US President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande both spoke reverently of the Allied invasion that started June 6. 1944, and liberated Europe from Nazi tyranny.
"Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men," Obama said before approximately 10,000 gathered at the Normandy American Cemetery. "Whenever you lose hope, think of these men."
American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger and American Legion Auxiliary National President Nancy Brown-Park attended the ceremony on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Joining them were USAA CEO Josue Robles and USAA Vice President John Bird. USAA is the preferred provider of financial services for The American Legion.
Friday's binational ceremony was the crescendo of a week of commemorations in northwestern France honoring the invasion, the liberation and the meaning of it all.
"Some values are worth fighting for," Hollande told the crowd assembled near the graves of more than 9,300 Americans who paid the ultimate price for France's freedom from German occupation. "They died that we might live in freedom. More than 20,838 gave their lives in Normandy. They were your relatives, brothers and friends. I will reiterate the words of my predecessors: we will never forget."
Hollande was born in Normandy and made the point that Obama, born in Hawaii, have a sense of connection about World War II, having come from two of its most profound flashpoints.
Obama said the Normandy cemetery always reminds him of his grandfather who fought in Patton's Army in World War II.
Obama thanked the people of France for their unwavering commitment to the memories of Americans who died fighting in the war. "People of France, you have kept your word, like the true friends you are," Obama said. "We are forever grateful."
Hollande dedicated a portion of his speech Friday to the heroism of those buried at the Normandy American Cemetery who have received the Medal of Honor, including Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., a founder of The American Legion, who the French president described as "the victor of Utah Beach." Roosevelt, Jr., was 56 years old when he came ashore on the first wave on D-Day. He died of a heart attack five weeks later in Normandy.
Obama spoke of D-Day as the turning point that not only rooted out Nazi Germany but also began a spread of democracy that continued through the fall of the Berlin Wall. "It was here on these shores where the tide was turned in the common struggle for freedom," he said. "This was democracy's beach-head. None of that would have happened without men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they had never met."
On two occasions during the ceremony, Obama turned to the World War II veterans seated near the presidents. And on both occasions, the massive crowd rose in standing ovations, paying tribute, Obama explained, not only to "the fate of a war but to the course of human history."