‘We will not forget’: Biden praises US, Allied troops at D-Day 80th anniversary ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery

The anniversary of the D-Day invasion comes as even the youngest veterans of that day are approaching their 100th birthday

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — President Joe Biden praised American and allied troops at a ceremony in Normandy on Thursday to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, drawing parallels between the struggles against tyranny during World War II and Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Speaking before a crowd at Normandy American Cemetery that included WWII veterans, dignitaries and celebrities,

Biden vowed that the United States would not walk away from Ukraine. “To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable,” Biden said. “Were we to do that, it means we would forget what happened here at these hallowed beaches. “Make no mistake, we will not bow down, we will not forget.”

The anniversary of the D-Day invasion comes as even the youngest veterans of that day are approaching their 100th birthday, making today’s event an opportunity to pass the living memory of WWII on to younger generations.

Dozens of veterans were welcomed with fanfare and applause at the cemetery, where roughly 9,400 white grave markers in the shape of crosses and Stars of David stretch for acres on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

Three C-130 aircraft flew overhead as Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron followed the veterans onto the ceremony grounds. After a short speech,

Macron awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest national decoration in France, to 11 of the veterans. He would later award the honor to four more veterans. “You came here because the free world needed each and every one of you, and you answered the call,” Macron said.

Actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg were also among the spectators who arrived at the cemetery early Thursday morning.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who spoke to the crowd, said it was important to defend the principles that the Allied forces fought for eight decades ago. “At this hinge of history, we must stand firm against aggression and tyranny,” Austin said. Addressing the veterans, he added: “You saved the world, and we must only defend it … our gratitude must never fade, our memories must never dim, and our resolve must never fail.”

Members of the 529th Military Police Company, Honor Guard, performed a 21-gun salute with small cannons pointed toward Omaha Beach.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event, the head of U.S. Africa Command, Gen. Michael Langley, one of many top military officials in attendance, lauded the veterans who turned the tide of the war.

“That had a common purpose, to come and achieve the planned mission in the face of danger,” Langley said. “We remember that today generations later, the sacrifices they made.”

A larger international ceremony at nearby Omaha Beach, where many Americans lost their lives on D-Day as they stormed the shore in the face of heavy fire, followed the cemetery memorial. American, Canadian and British troops also landed at beaches code-named Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was embraced by Macron as dignitaries arrived at the international remembrance Thursday afternoon.

Macron thanked Zelenskyy and Ukrainians for their courage. “We are here and won’t back away,” Macron told the gathering.

King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were scheduled to honor British troops at Sword, and Prince William and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will participate in a ceremony for Canadian troops who landed at Juno.

About 14,000 Canadians were among the 150,000 Allied troops who landed or parachuted into Normandy in 1944. “Far from home they stormed these very sand dunes behind me, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of British troops,” William said.

Hundreds of smaller memorials and commemoration events have been held throughout Normandy in the run-up to the anniversary.

The most recognizable guests throughout the week were eager to greet and be seen with the World War II veterans.

Veterans who could stand were helped out of wheelchairs to pose for photos with the president and first lady Jill Biden, the Associated Press reported.

One hugged Biden, another saluted. When Biden learned it was one of the veterans’ birthday, he led the audience in singing happy birthday.

The first lady clutched the arm of another veteran, Robert Gibson, to help him stand next to Biden as they shook hands, according to the AP.

“Don’t get old,” the 100-year-old man joked to the 81-year-old president, who was a toddler when D-Day took place.

By Phillip Walter Wellman
Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau.
He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. 

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