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Obama Speaks at Normandy; Commemorating D-Day After 70 Years; Hillary Clinton, Laying the Ground for 2016?
Aired June 6, 2014 - 05:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nations that once knew only the blinders of fear began to taste the blessings of freedom. None of that would have happened without the men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they had never met and ideals they couldn't live without. None of it would have happened without the troops President Roosevelt called the lifeblood of America, the hope of the world.
They left home barely more than boys and returned home heroes. But to their great credit, that is not how this -- after the war, some put away their medals, or quiet about their service, moved on. Some carrying shrapnel and scars found it was much harder. Many, like my grandfather, who served in Patton's army, lived a quiet life, trading one uniform and set of responsibilities for another. As a teacher or a salesman or a doctor or an engineer, a dad, a grandpa.
Our country made sure millions of them earned a college education, opening up opportunity on an unprecedented scale, and they married those sweethearts and bought new homes and raised families and built businesses, lifting up the greatest middle class the world has ever known. And through it all, they were inspired, I suspect, by memories of fallen brothers, memories that drove them to live their lives each day as best they possibly could.
Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men. Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men. Think of Wilson Calwell who was told he couldn't pilot a plane without a high school degree, so he decided to jump out of a plane instead. And he did here on D-Day with 101st Airborne when he was just 16 years old.
Think of Harry Colcowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants who fudged his age in enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight. And don't worry, Harry, the statute of limitations has expired. Harry came ashore at Utah beach on D-Day. And now that he's come back, we said he can have anything he wants for lunch today. He helped liberate this coast after all. But he said a hamburger would do fine.
What's more American than that?
Think of Rock Merritt, who saw a recruitment poster asking him if he was man enough to be a paratrooper so he signed up on the spot. That decision landed him here on D-Day with the 508th Regiment, the unit that would suffer heavy casualties. And 70 years later, it's said that all across Ft. Bragg, may know Rock, not just for his exploits on D-Day or his 35 years in the Army, but because 91-year-old Rock Merritt still spends his time speaking to the young men and women of today's army and still bleeds OD green for his 82nd Airborne.
Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible, stop and think of these men. Wilson and Harry and Rock, they are here today, and although I know we already gave them a rousing round of applause, along with all our veterans of D-Day, if you could stand, please stand, if not, please raise your hand. Let us recognize your service once more.
These men waged wars so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free. They fought in hopes of a day when we'd no longer need to fight. We are grateful to them.
And gentlemen, and gentlemen, I want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands. For, at a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interests, to slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, a new generation, our men and women of war have chosen to do their part as well.
Rock, I want you to know that Staff Sergeant Melvin Sedillo Martin, who's here today, is following in your footsteps. He just had to become an American first, because Melvin was born in Honduras, moved to the United States, joined the Army. After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was reassigned to the 82nd Airborne. And Sunday, he'll parachute into Normandy.
I became part of a family of real American heroes, he said, the paratroopers of the 82nd.
Wilson, you should know that Specialist Janice Rodriguez joined the army not even two years ago, was assigned to the 101st Airborne and just last month earned the title of the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault Soldier of the Year, and that's inspiring but not surprising when the women of today's military have taken on responsibilities, including combat like never before.
I want each of you to know that their commitment to their fellow service members and veterans endures. Sergeant 1st Class Brian Hawthorne's grandfather served under General Patton and General McArthur. By themselves served two tours in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star in Baghdad for saving the life of his best friend and today he and his wife used their experience to help other veterans and military families navigate theirs.
And Brian is here at Normandy to participate in Sunday's jump. And here just yesterday, he re-enlisted in the Army Reserve.
And this generation, this 9/11 generation of service members, they, too, felt something. They answered some call. They said, I will go. They, too, chose to serve a cause that's greater than self. Many, even after they knew they'd be sent into harm's way. And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.
Sergeant 1st Class Cory Remzberg has served 10. And I've told Cory's incredible story before, most recently when he sat with my wife, Michelle, at the State of the Union address. It was here at Omaha Beach on the 65th Anniversary of D-Day where I first met Cory and his fellow Army Rangers, right after they made their own jump into Normandy. The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, unable to speak or walk after an IED nearly killed him in Afghanistan.
But over the past five years, Cory has grown stronger, learning to speak again and stand again and walk again. And earlier this year, he jumped out of a plane again. And the first words Cory said to me after his accident echoed those words first shouted all those years ago on this beach, "Rangers lead the way."
So Cory has come back today along with Melvin and Janice and Brian and many of their fellow active duty service members. We thank them for their service. They are a reminder that the tradition represented by these gentlemen continues.
We are on this earth for only a moment in time. And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.
As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don't think there's a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I'd be more happy to have him here than this day. So we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for. We have to honor those who carried forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.
And as today's wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform, and they, too, will build families and lives of their own. They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in commerce and industry, and perhaps politics, the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time. And, god willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped to keep free.
And some day, future generations, whether 70 or 700 years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.
May God bless our veterans and all who serve with them, including those who rest here in eternal peace, and may God bless all who serve today for the peace and security of the world. May God bless the people of France and may God bless our United States of America.
(END LIVE FEED)
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Seventy years. An emotional, a personal speech from President Obama marking the D-Day invasion. He says, whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men. Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men. We have to tell their stories.
A really moving speech from President Obama that I hope everyone gets a chance to see because this was not about politics. This was about America, about our history together 70 years ago and today and what it all means.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A personal speech from this president as well. I mean, what really got me was when he said, a day like today is when he really misses his grandfather, and so many of us feel that way. When you look at those old men, those elderly men who fought as young men for America, a lot of us feel that way, that, you know, it is our grandfathers and our great uncles, that generation who let us live the life that we have today, and they made that big sacrifice.
BERMAN: And he connected it to today, telling stories about current soldiers, servicemen and women in the military, and at one point, the camera focused on one of those young men, and I saw a smile on the face of what I think was a young soldier, and I think he was honored to be connected --
BERMAN: -- to the men who served 70 years ago. What an honor to be compared to them in so many ways.
I think the president also made an interesting point. He said that that invasion, the D-Day invasion 70 years ago today it was not going well at first. It was a very, very difficult morning there, but it was the courage of free men, he said, that helped turn the tide there.
ROMANS: And the perspective of the long view. Sometimes when you're in it, you don't -- you can't take the long view.
Let's bring in noted historian Kenneth Davis. He's the author of the book, "Don't Know Much about History," among many others.
And that's a very good point the president makes, that in the early going, Omaha Beach was a failure.
KENNETH DAVIS, AUTHOR, "DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY": It was a failure, and we can think about all of the failures throughout the different stages of World War II. In fact, a few weeks before D-Day, there was a practice run, and ships were hit by German submarines. Seven hundred men died in a practice run. It was kept secret because they couldn't reveal that they were practicing for the invasion.
And so that's the kind of story, if it had happened today, if we had it on Twitter, you know, that might have ruined the whole thing. We would have said, forget it, we can't do this, you know. So it was a completely different time in history.
I'm struck also by one thing. We keep talking about men, but these were boys. By this time in World War II, the average enlistment age had fallen and also draft age had fallen into teenagers. Typical age, average age in World War II was in the mid-20s, but by this point in the war, teenagers were being drafted. And there were a lot of teenagers on those beaches that morning. So they were -- we call them men, and they certainly were men. They proved themselves to be men, but they were boys.
And we forget what sacrifice and service means sometimes in America, and I think this is an important day to reflect back on that.
BERMAN: As the president said, they arrived as boys, they left as heroes.
DAVIS: It's true. And it was also what Eisenhower, the supreme commander, called a great crusade. And we sometimes forget that in our cynicism about history and the past. This was a crusade, as the president was saying, to liberate Europe, and that's a powerful idea that I think we should also reflect on.
ROMANS: The president also got personal when he talked about his own grandmother, who helped the war effort at home. We talk about these boys who became men and then there were the women, the women who were part of the massive war effort to build the material.
DAVIS: That's why I say we today are very much removed from war, very different situation. No family practically was untouched by war at that time, whether it was a son or a husband in service or the mom who was going off to work in factory, the Rosie the Riveters changed America forever.
BERMAN: Let's listen for a second here. They're playing "Taps" there, the tribute to what happened 70 years ago. That just ended, I should say. But you can see, again, President Obama, French leader Francois Hollande, standing amongst the veterans, the men who have come back 70 years later.
Pageantry, really, of it, which pales in comparison to what happened 70 years ago. You're looking at three planes flying overhead. Imagine what the skies must have looked like 70 years ago today, Ken.
DAVIS: The Germans couldn't believe when they saw the ships coming. It just filled their view. I mean, it was -- it must have been an awesome sight. We see news reels now, but they -- it was a surprise out of the fog on this early morning. Thousands and thousands of ships and then hitting the beaches. An extraordinary moment in all of human history.
ROMANS: And the men came wave after wave.
BERMAN: As the president said, wave after wave after wave of Americans to liberate peoples they had never met. DAVIS: On beaches that became beaches of death. There's no other way
to describe them.
BERMAN: The beachhead of democracy, also, the president said, as a way of talking about the turning point in history that that day really became. That was the turning point in the war, that was the turning point when America really began in some ways to dictate the developments in the world over what has now been the next 70 years.
DAVIS: But we also have to remember, it was another, almost another full year of fighting, including some very, very deadly battles, like the battle of the Bulge, fought in the dead of winter.
ROMANS: Some of the men who survived the D-Day invasion went -- perished then later on.
DAVIS: That's true. And so it was a long -- it was the beginning of the end, rather than, you know, we can call it a turning point. And of course, while this is going on, we have, as the president mentioned, the Marines in the Pacific fighting those dreadful battles. This was truly a world war. It's hard for especially younger people to contemplate and understand how all-encompassing this was.
BERMAN: Which is why, as the president said, we have to tell their stories.
DAVIS: These are war stories that we have to tell.
BERMAN: Ken, thank you so much for being with us.
DAVIS: My pleasure.
BERMAN: We really appreciate it. A really remarkable morning, a remarkable vision to see 70 years later.
ROMANS: More live coverage of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. There's the president talking with veterans, right after the break.
BERMAN: You're looking at live pictures from Normandy in France, just off Omaha Beach. That's President Obama. He's just finished speaking on the shores there, paying tribute to the 150,000 soldiers who landed that day, liberating Europe, democracy's beachhead, he called it. He is shaking hands with the soldiers, thanking them. He is clearly humbled, I think, by the chance to be with these men, overwhelmed by their sacrifice. He says whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men.
ROMANS: And he said it makes him miss his grandfather, his own grandfather who served in Patton's Army, right, who is of that generation that --
BERMAN: And it made him feel that we have to tell their stories, and he is and we are this morning. We'll continue to cover this throughout the morning. Meanwhile, there is some other news today in the political world here.
Hillary Clinton got a new book out, soon-ish, four days before her memoir "Hard Choice" is set to hit the book shelves, excerpts have been released, or (INAUDIBLE) leaked, I should say, or picked up or, you know, somehow gotten a hold of, where she talks about former POW Bowe Bergdahl. This book was written long before this -- the American soldier was freed over the weekend, but it does suggest that Clinton did suspect a backlash would follow if the administration made such a trade with the Taliban.
She writes, "In every discussion about prisoners, we demanded the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been captured in 2009. There would not be any agreement about prisoners without the sergeant coming home." It goes on, "I acknowledged as I had many times before that opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war."
ROMANS: Paul Steinhauser, CNN political editor, joins us live from Washington, D.C., with more. And we're sort of devouring what we're seeing of this book so far. What else jumps out at you?
PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, and we're getting this, I guess you can, from CBS News. They were able to get their hands on a copy of the book. As you mentioned it comes out Tuesday. It hits book shelves Tuesday.
Here's what else stands out to me, another issue, international issue where Americans definitely don't see eye to eye, where there are disagreements, is that bloody 3-year-old Syrian civil war and what to do, whether we should arm the rebels.
Here's what she writes in the book, "The president's inclination was to stay the present course and not to take the further significant step of arming rebels. No one likes to lose a debate, including me, but this was the president's call and I respected his deliberations and decisions. From the beginning of our partnership, he had promised me that I would always get a fair hearing and I always did. In this case, my position didn't prevail."
Seems like she's putting a little bit of a daylight between herself and the president when it comes to Syria, guys.
BERMAN: Paul, you know, I hate to be cynical this morning because President Obama just told me not to be during his speech in D-Day, but this book, what we know of it, seems to be Hillary Clinton laying down markers on several key issues to make this daylight. You see it on Syria, you see it remarkably on Bowe Bergdahl, and she may not have known that the release was imminent.
You know, it's really interesting, also on Iraq, by the way, not daylight between her and the president, but making a new statement on Iraq, laying the groundwork, perhaps, for the future.
STEINHAUSER: Perhaps for the future, right, if she runs for president. Again remember that 2002 vote she had in favor of the Iraq war resolution really hurt her big time when she ran for president in 2008. Here's what she writes now, "I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. I wasn't alone in getting it wrong, but I still got it wrong, plain and simple."
Some of her strongest language to date about her vote in 2002 on Iraq, guys.
BERMAN: And potentially a whole lot easier to campaign on if she were to run again than in 2008 when she did have trouble with that issue.
Paul Steinhauser, great to have you here this morning.
ROMANS: All right, more live coverage of the 70th anniversary of D- Day. We're going to take you right back there right after the break.
BERMAN: It really has been a remarkable morning, remembering D-Day 70 years ago today, so emotional.
ROMANS: We have continuing coverage on "NEW DAY" starting right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You were young the day you took these cliffs, yet you risked everything here.
BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must carry on the work of those who did not return and those who did.
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That road to D- Day was hard and long and traveled by weary and valiant men.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This beach had been fought, lost, refought, and won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY.