80 years after D-Day, the world remembers
American Legion National Commander Daniel Seehafer, Sons of The American Legion National Commander Donald "JR" Hall and American Legion Auxiliary National President Lisa Williamson visit the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in France.

80 years after D-Day, the world remembers

American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer completed his official tour of Normandy, France, Thursday among more than 150 living veterans of World War II who survived their tours of wartime duty 80 years earlier, and thousands more who did not.

“We join with the international community – particularly the people of France – to honor Americans and Allies of all service branches who forfeited every one of their tomorrows so that we might have this day,” Seehafer said after tens of thousands swarmed into the Normandy American Cemetery grounds above Omaha Beach, on a bright, sunny Thursday afternoon to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. “Free people of Europe, the United States and around the world owe the opportunities they enjoy to the Americans who rest beneath these markers, on this hallowed ground.”

U.S. President Joe Biden  and France President Emmanuel Macron spoke at the ceremony as international media outlets broadcast their words, spoken before rows of veterans from the war, now nearing or past 100 years of age.

Biden and Macron were among 20 heads of state who made the pilgrimage to the northwestern France coastline where, on June 6, 1944, history’ s largest amphibious assault began the downfall of Nazi Germany and 11 months later ended World War II in Europe.

Onstage at the big ceremony, Macron awarded 11 World War II veterans the French Legion of Honor, the highest recognition of service bestowed by the republic. President Biden spoke with each veteran after the French president pinned the medal on a chest. Later Biden saluted the unity necessary to win the war – of different military branches, different countries, people of all racial backgrounds, men and women alike. He told the stories of different veterans and how it took a diverse mix, all working toward the same goal: to defeat Nazi Germany.

“Theirs has always been the story of America,” Biden said of the veterans, both living and dead. “Just walk the rows of this cemetery, as I have. Nearly 10,000 heroes buried side by side. Officers and enlisted. Immigrants and native born. Different races. Different faiths. But all Americans … They all served America, when America needed them most.”

The national commander began the week by unveiling a Statue of Liberation to Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Ste. Mere-Eglise. There, he met World War II veterans, including Dennis Boldt of Mankato, Minn., who was accompanied to the unveiling by Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the current man to hold the office Eisenhower filled in World War II.

Seehafer, American Legion Auxiliary National President Lisa Williamson and Sons of The American Legion National Commander Donald “J.R.” Hall posed for photos under the Eisenhower statue with World War II veteran Jack Einstein of Virginia. They later walked across the sands of Omaha Beach and entered the famous church at Angoville en Plain, portrayed in numerous movies, including “Band of Brothers,” where U.S. medics treated the wounded from both sides of the war in a makeshift military hospital during the height of the fighting in Normandy. At Utah Beach, Seehafer swapped challenge coins with Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient Col. Harvey C. Barnum Jr.

More than 150 ceremonies – large and small – were conducted across the Cotentin Peninsula during the week of the 80th anniversary, including wreath layings by the American Legion Family at the Airborne Memorial in Ste. Mere-Eglise, as well as the monument that honors the memory of Alexandre Renaud, the commune’s mayor on D-Day.

On June 5, the national commander and American Legion member Valerie Prehoda, a retired lieutenant colonel, presented a wreath in honor of the Navy frogmen who were the first Americans to reach the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

“It is important not only for the veterans of today, but for future generations, that we always remember the military sacrifices necessary to restore and maintain world peace,” Seehafer said. “On this special 80th anniversary trip, I was especially impressed by the number of young people, French and American, including some who have participated in American Legion youth programs like Boys State, who were there and learning about a generation that freedom and democracy can never forget.”