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Obama In Normandy For 70th Anniversary Of D-Day


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. The sky over Normandy is brilliant blue on this June 6. It is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. That's the 1944 Allied invasion across the English Channel into German-occupied France. It was such a risky enterprise in World War II, that General Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote a letter in case it failed, saying the blame is mine alone.

The invasion worked. Another year of fighting brought the war in Europe to an end. And today's gathering of world leaders reminds us that the world order that grew from that victory has still not quite passed away. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is at the ceremony and joins us. Hi, Eleanor.


INSKEEP: What have you been seeing?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, my gosh. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, I think. Imagine this big, high bluff of a green, perfectly manicured cemetery with a rows of white crosses and these beautiful Parasol Pine trees that looks down over Omaha beach, which is a very wild beach. There's nothing on it, just the golden sand.

So the white crosses, the green, the blue sky, the sand, the sea. It is an absolutely breathtaking place. And it is filling up today with people. It was by invitation only, but there's about a thousand people coming, more, to the cemetery to pay tribute to these soldiers, these men who gave their lives on the D-Day invasion.

And let me remind you, Steve, that we're coming off a very tense G-7, that just took place in Brussels. Now, if you remember it used to be G-8 because Russia was part of it. But Russia has been thrown out because of its aggressions in Ukraine. So in Brussels, the seven other leaders sent a message to Vladimir Putin saying, pull back your soldier from the border of Ukraine, recognize this new Ukrainian government, or we're going to slap more sanctions on you.

But today, Steve, all that is going to be put aside because today Europe, Russia, they're coming together to commemorate the magnitude of this common effort to defeat the Nazis. Steve, don't forget that the Russians have every right to be here. We talk about D-Day, but a historian told me that the battle of Stalingrad actually broke the back of the German army. The Russians lost 9 million soldiers in World War II, and America, just in comparison, lost a little over 400,000. So that gives you an idea of the sacrifice of the Russian people to also help win this war.

So today world leaders are coming together to honor that.

But, Steve, I just want to tell you, this has been going on for more than a week here in Normandy. I don't know how to describe it, except to say that it's a lovefest for the veterans. I've been out on these little beach towns, these little Normandy villages. The veterans come in. They've come in by busload. There's about 3,000 that have come back from Britain, Canada, the U.S. They are treated like heroes, like rock stars. The locals want to get pictures with them. They want their autographs. They want to talk to them, and it's just amazing to see the outpouring of gratitude and support, 70 years later. And I even asked a veteran last night - he said, I'm just stunned. And for a lot of these veterans, it's their first time back. And they are truly, truly - I've seen a lot of tears. I mean, they're very, very moved by what is going on here in honor of their sacrifice, 70 years ago today.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note, this may be the last time that quite so many are able to come back.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely because a 10-year anniversary is a big one, and these guys will not make that trip every year. It's a big trip to make. And that's in the back of everyone's mind, is this may be the very last time to speak with some of these people who participated in that day here, 70 years ago.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Great to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Now, earlier today, President Obama spoke to the veterans and others above the beach.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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 rather the course of human history.

INSKEEP: "The Star-Spangled Banner" and France's "Marseillaise" were played as elderly veterans stood frozen in salute.

GREENE: Wow, what a scene there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.