Below are the President’s remarks as prepared for Friday’s event at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach.
Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery
70th Anniversary of D-Day
Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
June 6, 2014
If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world.
Captains paced their decks. Pilots tapped their gauges. Commanders pored over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong: the winds, the tides, the element of surprise – and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.
Fresh-faced GIs rubbed trinkets, kissed pictures of sweethearts, checked and re-checked their equipment. “God,” asked one, “Give me guts.” And in the pre-dawn hours, planes rumbled down runways; gliders and paratroopers slipped through the sky; giant screws began to turn on an armada that looked like more ships than sea. And more than 150,000 souls set off towards this tiny sliver of sand upon which hung more than the fate of a war, but the course of human history.
President Hollande, distinguished guests, I am honored to return here today to pay tribute to the men and women of a generation who defied every danger: among them, our veterans of D-Day. Gentlemen, we are truly humbled by your presence today.
Just last week, I received a letter from a French citizen. “Dear Mr. President and the American people,” he wrote, “[we are] honored to welcome you…to thank you again for all the pain and efforts of [the] American people and others in our common struggle for freedom.”
Today, we say the same to the people of France. Thank you, especially, for the generosity you’ve shown the Americans who’ve come here over the generations – to these beaches, and to this sacred place of rest for 9,387 Americans. At the end of the war, when our ships set off for America filled with our fallen, tens of thousands of liberated Europeans turned out to say farewell. And they pledged to take care of the more than 60,000 Americans who would remain in cemeteries on this continent “as if,” in the words of one man, “their tombs were our children’s.” You have kept your word, like the true friends you are. We are forever grateful.
Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are; we don’t just honor sacrifice, as grateful as the world is; we come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril. And we come to tell the story of the men and women who did it, so that it remains seared into the memory of the future world.
We tell this story for the old soldiers who pull themselves a little straighter today to salute brothers who never made it home. For the daughter who clutches a faded photo of her father, forever young. For the child who runs his fingers over colorful ribbons he knows signify something of great consequence – even if he doesn’t yet know why. We tell this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the boys from America reached Omaha Beach.
By daybreak, blood soaked the water, and bombs broke the sky. Thousands of paratroopers had dropped into the wrong landing sites; thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand. Entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes. “Hell’s Beach” had earned its name.
By 8:30 a.m., General Omar Bradley expected our troops to be a mile inland. “Six hours after the landings,” he wrote, “we held only ten yards of beach.” In our age of instant commentary, the invasion would have been swiftly and roundly declared, as it was by one officer, “a debacle.”