CARENTAN, France, June 5, 2014 - The sacrifice made by World War II veterans is reflected in the legacy of freedom they left following their success in the "greatest endeavor ever undertaken in the name of liberty," NATO'S Supreme Allied Commander Europe said.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, also commander of U.S. European Command, traveled here to participate in a series of French-hosted commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II. Breedlove saluted the veterans for their courage in liberating Europe.
"The French said 'thank you' today as they gave [veterans] the [French] Legion of Honor," Breedlove told American Forces Network yesterday.
"Well, you just can't buy this," he said, referring to French gratitude for what the allies did by liberating France and Europe as part of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. "You can't put it in a bottle. To see the nations -- all of them -- represented around this town, this country, this host nation, coming out like this in the hundreds and thousands to thank our soldiers and thank our veterans -- it's amazing. It's a great feeling."
Breedlove added, "You don't know what it's like until you watch these little kids and their parents, and their grandparents waving American flags, waving French flags, waving [British] flags, all the nations represented."
The French citizens' emotions illustrate "what it means to these people [regarding] the sacrifices that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines made for this country," he added.
Breedlove reflected on the hard choices Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower -- the D-Day invasion commander -- had to make in order to carry out the operation.
"Can you imagine what he was thinking as he sent so many of our nation's sons ashore knowing what was waiting for them?" Eisenhower knew what was going to be required to achieve success, Breedlove said, and he knew the sacrifice that would have to be made.
"It's probably the most incredible decision of our military," the general said. "And he stood up to it and sent these forces ashore, and they accomplished their mission."
Breedlove said he learned, from talking to veterans, that none of them made the decision to fight based on what was in front of them.
"They made decisions about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen. "Shoulder-to-shoulder with those who cared. And their mission was to get the job done and take care of each other."
It was the cohesion, camaraderie and esprit de corps, Breedlove said, that got them through some pretty tough times.
"They all gave so much. But what we owe all veterans is our freedom."
Speaking about freedom as the legacy of those who fought in World War II, Breedlove referred to a speech from a young French woman during an earlier ceremony where veterans received the French Legion of Honor.
"She wrote about that freedom that was purchased by the bravery and the sacrifice of our soldiers," he said. "So all we can do is just say, 'We thank you and we're lucky that you were there to stand for us.'"
Walking down Carentan's streets, the general also lauded veterans serving in today's formations, and the families who support them.
"I say thank you to the families," Breedlove said, "and to those veterans who are marching right in front of them who also served in multiple wars and multiple places around the world.
"We have lots of veterans that we owe dearly," he continued. "Thank you to all of them."
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