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On 80th anniversary of D-Day invasion, Biden and Macron honor WWII veterans at Normandy


On 80th anniversary of D-Day invasion, Biden and Macron honor WWII veterans at Normandy

Jun 06, 2024 | 12:41 pm ET
By Ashley Murray
On 80th anniversary of D-Day invasion, Biden and Macron honor WWII veterans at Normandy
U.S. President Joe Biden greets U.S. World War II veteran Victor Chaney after French President Emmanuel Macron awarded 11 veterans the Légion d'Honneur at the Normandy American Cemetery during a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 06, 2024 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Veterans, families, political leaders and military personnel are gathering in Normandy to commemorate D-Day, which paved the way for the Allied victory over Germany in World War II. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — “They were brave, they were resolute, they were ready,” President Joe Biden said Thursday at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, one of five along France’s northern coast where Allied troops invaded in 1944 and turned the tide in World War II.

Biden and dozens of U.S. lawmakers traveled to Normandy to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the largest land, air and sea operation in military history. 

More than 150,000 troops from the United States, Britain and Canada landed on the beaches on June 6, beginning a monthslong battle that eventually liberated Europe from Nazi Germany. 

Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron honored nearly a dozen D-Day survivors and other World War II veterans on a stage set before an enormous crowd that included service members, U.S. officials, members of Congress and Hollywood’s Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, who dramatized searing World War II scenes on film. 

Caretakers and active-duty military members helped the veterans stand before Macron as he pinned France’s Légion d’Honneur, its highest military honor, on their shoulders. Biden shook each veteran’s hand upon receiving the medal.

Among those honored on stage were Hilbert Margol of Georgia, John Wardell of New Jersey, Robert Pedigo of Indiana, Calvin Shiner of California, Edward Berthold of Illinois, Dominick Critelli of New York, Bill Casassa of Kansas, Victor Chaney of Indiana, Raymond Glansberg of Florida, Richard Stewart of Ohio and Jack Kinyon of Illinois.  

Roughly 20 miles east, Macron presented the same honor to British veterans at a separate event attended by King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the British Normandy Memorial overlooking Gold Beach, according to reporters at the ceremony. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a speech at nearby Juno Beach, according to reporters present.

‘Bands of brothers’ attend

Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with 41 veterans from the Normandy campaign, 33 of whom served on D-Day, according to reporters traveling with the president. Biden gave each a commemorative coin bearing the presidential seal and images of troops on the beaches of Normandy.

About 180 American WWII veterans attended the ceremony, according to reporters present. 

Many veterans, over or approaching age 100, sat on a shaded stage in wheelchairs, covered in blue blankets and wearing red, white and blue scarves. 

Miniature American and French flags fluttered beside each white marble cross and Star of David in the rows and rows that mark thousands of Americans laid to rest in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 

More than 9,300 Americans are buried at the 172.5-acre cemetery. Just over 300 headstones are marked unknown. A Wall of the Missing bears nearly 1,600 names of Americans declared missing or lost at sea.

“Many, to state the obvious, never came home. Many survived that longest day and kept on fighting for months until victory was finally won. And a few notable bands of brothers are here with us today,” Biden said during the ceremony that was livestreamed by several outlets, including C-SPAN.

More than 4,400 Allied troops died on the first day of the invasion, including 2,501 Americans.  

“Just walk the rows of the cemetery as I had. Nearly 10,000 heroes buried side by side — officers and enlisted, immigrants and native born, different races, different faiths, but all Americans, all served with honor,” Biden said.

‘Isolationism was not the answer’

The day was laden with reminders that Russia’s ground invasion in Ukraine is ongoing.

While Russia fought as an ally in the Battle of Normandy, shoring up the Eastern front, its modern-day President Vladimir Putin continues its assault and land grab in Ukraine.

“Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago, and it’s not the answer today,” Biden said to applause.

“We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago. They never fade — aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change borders by force,” Biden said, referring to Russia’s Putin. “These are perennial, the struggle between a dictatorship and freedom is unending.”

“The fact that they (WWII veterans) were heroes here that day does not absolve us from what we have to do today. Democracy is never guaranteed,” Biden said.

Biden said the U.S. “will not walk away” from Ukraine.

“Because if we do, Ukraine will be subjugated, and it will not end there,” Biden said.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended a separate D-Day event at Omaha Beach, according to White House press corps reporters who traveled with Biden to his second event of the day.

The latest $60 billion security package for Ukraine took six months to clear Congress because of strong opposition on the far-right. 

Biden said NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed four years after WWII that now counts more than 30 member states, is the “the greatest military alliance in the history of the world.”

Precipitated by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, two additional European nations joined the alliance in 2023 and 2024 — Finland, which shares a long land border with Russia, and Sweden, just across the Baltic Sea.

The alliance has been the target of criticism from presumed 2024 Republican presidential nominee and former President Donald Trump. Notably in February, Trump said in a CNN interview that he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries, depending on their financial contributions to the alliance.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during brief remarks Thursday that Allied nations must “again stand firm against aggression and tyranny” and “uphold the spirit of D-Day.”