Video: Bush on D-Day

updated 6/6/2004 5:33:01 AM ET 2004-06-06T09:33:01

President Bush on Sunday honored American soldiers who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy 60 years ago, saying their sacrifice to liberate Europe from the Nazis will be forever held "in the loving memory of America."

"We pray in the peace of this cemetery that they have reached the far shore of God's mercy," Bush said on the anniversary of the June 6, 1944, landing that led to the liberation of France and eventual end of World War II.

Shadowing the commemoration was the death Saturday of former President Ronald Reagan -- a hero and ideological forebear to the current White House occupant -- who gave a moving speech at Normandy exactly 20 years ago that made some old soldiers cry. "In seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe," Reagan said then.

"Twenty summers ago another American president came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day," Bush said. "He was a courageous leader himself and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom, and today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan."

Mutual respect
The president joined French President Jacques Chirac at a wreath laying at a memorial, which was followed by a 21-gun salute that spewed smoke into the blue sky, a somber rendition of "taps" and a flyover by four fighter jets.

"France will never forget," Chirac said. "She will never forget that sixth of June 1944 -- the day hope was reborn and rekindled. She will never forget those men who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity."

He spoke of a mutual respect between France and the United States, a relationship that has been strained over U.S. policy in Iraq. But he called it an "ancient" alliance and an "eternal ally."

"Our two peoples have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the brotherhood of blood spilled," Chirac said.

Leaders from more than 15 countries gathered at this year's Normandy commemoration, which included for the first time heads of state from Germany and Russia. Chirac invited both Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

After the ceremonies, Bush, Chirac, Schroeder, Putin, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin are to fly to Sea Island, Ga., for next week’s economic summit. They are to be joined by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Tens of thousands converge
Tens of thousands of people from the United States or across Europe turned out Saturday for public events to honor the sacrifices of the war veterans and fallen soldiers.

War buffs in the uniforms of U.S. paratroopers craned their necks among nearly 50,000 people for a re-enactment of D-Day jumps by American GIs near Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Families jockeyed to see Britain's Prince Charles at a wreath-laying ceremony at Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, another of the early towns liberated on D-Day.

The massive Allied operation west of Paris was the largest amphibious invasion in history, drawing together more than 130,000 troops, 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft. At the Normandy American Cemetery, 9,386 American servicemen are buried.

Bush made several references to veterans who survived the fierce battles, looking out at an audience interspersed with aging veterans, some of them in military uniforms and others in wheelchairs.

"Time and providence have brought them back to see once more the beaches and the cliffs, the crosses and the Stars of David," Bush said. "Generations to come will know what happened here, but these men heard the guns."

Among those in the dwindling crowd of D-Day Veterans was Alexander Milijevic, 79, who came ashore on Omaha Beach with the 4th Infantry Division. He made it into France but was captured two weeks later.

Milijevic, of Havre de Grace, Md., said in a shaky voice that he was "overwhelmed" by the experience.

"It's a lovely place here, with so many memories," he said.

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