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World War II Veterans Honored at Normandy

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Seventy years after Allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy, President Barack Obama returned Friday to this hallowed battleground in what he called a "powerful manifestation of America's commitment to human freedom" that lives on in a new generation.

"Our commitment to liberty, our claim to equality, our claim to freedom and to the inherent dignity of every human being - that claim is written in the blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity," Obama said on a morning that dawned glorious and bright over the sacred site he called "democracy's beachhead."

Obama spoke from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where nearly 10,000 white marble tombstones sit on a bluff overlooking the site of the June 6, 1944, battle's most violent fighting at Omaha Beach. He described D-Day's violent scene in vivid terms, recalling that "by daybreak, blood soaked the water" and "thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand."

Veterans of that fierce battle traveled long distances to the remote historic site and removed their hats as the audience delivered a long standing ovation when Obama recognized them.

"These men waged war so that we might know peace," Obama said. "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."

The anniversary commemoration is putting fractures in the World War II alliance on display, with Russian President Vladimir Putin attending events along with leaders who are standing against his aggressive moves into Ukraine. Putin posed with the leaders for a photo outside a lunch at the Chateau de Benouville, then filed inside directly in front of Obama. He and Putin appeared to be deliberately trying to avoid each other. Obama chatted with Queen Elizabeth II and did not acknowledge Putin in front of the assembled media before the group went inside for the private meal.

Obama's speech at the morning ceremony came after he met privately with seven of the dwindling number of surviving troops who fought Adolf Hitler's Third Reich, along with seven members of the military who have served since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Among them was Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who served 10 deployments and was severely wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Obama recognized Remsburg at the emotional high-point of his State of the Union address earlier this year, after first meeting him five years ago at the Normandy commemoration.

Obama held Remsberg up Friday as an example of the sacrifice of his generation, telling the D-Day veterans, "Your legacy is in good hands."

"For 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," Obama said. He recognized the commitment that women and immigrants are making in today's more diverse U.S. military.

The president mentioned that his grandfather served in Patton's Army and his grandmother was among the many women who went to work supporting the war effort back home, in her case on a B-29 bomber assembly line. Obama's grandparents helped raise him, and he broke from his prepared text to observe wistfully that there was never a time he missed his grandfather more or would have loved to be with him.

"Someday, future generations, whether seventy or seven hundred years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them," Obama said. "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."   (AP)

Nevada Senator Harry Reid delivered these remarks on the Senate floor Thursday to commemorate the sacrifices of brave American soldiers on the fields of Normandy:

On June 6, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began his national radio address in a peculiar fashion – one not entirely common then or now. The President of the United States asked the American people to join him in prayer. The Commander-in-Chief’s prayer was not for himself, but for the 156,000 Allied soldiers fighting their way onto the beaches of Normandy that very same day.  As he implored on behalf of those soldiers, President Roosevelt said, and I quote:

“They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war. For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate.”

Most of the troops who stormed the beaches of France that day were not professional soldiers. They were schoolteachers, farmers, mechanics, and clerks. These fathers, husbands, sons and brothers were pulled away from their peaceful lives, and instead were sent to liberate an entire continent.  They fought courageously for liberty. They hurtled themselves into the line of fire to defeat tyranny.

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, that day when 156,000 heroic soldiers turned the tide against Hitler’s savagery, and eventually unshackled the nations of Europe. Today, proof of those soldiers’ bravery can be seen on the fields of Normandy. The seemingly endless rows of white headstones testify of their valor. They are reminders of the debt we owe to those individuals who refused to balk in the face of evil.

May we always honor their sacrifice and never forget the price they paid to protect not only this nation, but the entire world.

One of the ways in which we honor the soldiers who have defended democracy is to care for our veterans. As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, it is fitting that members of this body are working on bipartisan legislation to ensure that American veterans get the help they need and deserve.

In light of the disturbing reports of inappropriate practices at Department of Veterans’ Affairs hospitals, Chairman Bernie Sanders of the Senate Veterans Committee is leading the effort to craft a bill to improve care at VA hospitals. I applaud Senator Sanders’ efforts, and those of Senators Burr and McCain, in finding a bipartisan solution to the problem of wait times at VA facilities.

I am hopeful that an agreement will be reached that guarantees American veterans are receiving the care we, as a grateful nation, have promised them. It is the least we can do for the brave men and women who have fought to protect the United States of America.

Senator Dean Heller offered this statement in honor of the bravery of those who battled and the great sacrifices made on that day:
“Today, we honor the brave Nevadans and all Americans who risked their lives defending our liberty on the beaches of Normandy, France 70 years ago. The sacrifices our brave Armed Forces made on this day set America and the world on a path to peace, freedom, and liberty that all Americans enjoy today.
“What is known as D-Day marked the beginning of the demise of one of the worst enemies that the Unites States has ever had to face. The brave men that stormed Omaha Beach sacrificed their lives, their ambitions, and their relationships with loved ones to liberate those who were enslaved by the Nazis.
“Their courage demonstrated that America would not sit idly by as countries across the Atlantic suffered, reaffirming America’s belief that violations of basic human rights will not be tolerated. Their unwavering service is what has made this country so great and a beacon of democracy. These men believed that freedom was worth fighting for and that reflects what is most inspiring about the United States of America.
“Our service members’ commitment to this country, as well as their dedication to their families and communities, exemplified why the legacy of all World War II veterans must be preserved for generations to come.  These heroes truly are the Greatest Generation—selflessly serving not for recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. 
“Today, 70 years ago, Americans stood against tyranny and persevered. The brave men and women who risked everything to come to the aid of others deserve our respect and appreciation. It is extremely humbling to be able to be in France today on behalf of my fellow Nevadans as we commemorate the brave actions that allowed the Allied troops to defeat tyranny,” said Senator Dean Heller.
In honor of the 70th anniversary, Senator Dean Heller joined with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to lead a Senate delegation to attend ceremonies at sites of the D-Day landings.

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