WASHINGTON, June 6, 2014 - Normandy represents democracy's beachhead, President Barack Obama said today in remarks commemorating the 70th anniversary of the allied invasion of France, a turning point in World War II that he said "decided not just a century but shaped the security and well being of all posterity."
The air, land and sea invasion of Normandy 70 years ago today, considered the largest amphibious assault in military history, turned the tide in the allies' defeat of the Nazis and established liberty and freedom as a birthright in Europe.
"It was here, on these shores, that the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom," the president said during ceremonies at Omaha Beach. "Omaha -- Normandy -- this was democracy's beachhead. And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity. We worked to turn old adversaries into new allies. We built new prosperity. We stood once more with the people of this continent through a long twilight struggle until finally a wall tumbled down, and an Iron Curtain, too."
From Western Europe toward the East and from South America to Southeast Asia, the democratic movement spread, the president said.
"None of that would have happened without the men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they'd never met and ideals they couldn't live without," Obama said. "None of it would have happened without the troops President Roosevelt called "the life-blood of America -- the hope of the world."
Obama singled out three veterans who returned to Normandy for the commemoration as representatives of the millions who served in the U.S. military during the war. "Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men," Obama said. "Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men."
He spoke of Wilson Colwell, "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 the 101st Airborne when he was just 16 years old."
He spoke of Harry Kulkowitz, the Jewish son of Russian immigrants, who fudged his age at enlistment so he could join his friends in the fight.
He spoke 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, a unit that would suffer heavy casualties."
Obama spoke to the three veterans, telling them that their legacy is in good hands. "In a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest, 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," the president said.
"This 9/11 Generation of service members, they, too, felt something," Obama said. "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."
Today's wars will end and the veterans of today will take their lessons from the World War II generation. "They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in commerce, in industry and perhaps politics -- the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time," the president said.
"And, God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped to keep free," Obama added. "And someday, 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."
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