World leaders pay homage to D-Day's history-makers

7th June 2009, Comments 0 comments

In a cemetery overlooking Omaha beach, the US president eulogised more than 9,387 US soldiers killed in the Battle of Normandy, 65 years after American, Canadian and British troops stormed ashore under torrents of Nazi fire.

Colleville-sur-mer -- Barack Obama vowed the world would never forget the dead of D-Day as he joined fellow leaders on Saturday at the site of the Allied landing which changed the course of history.

In a cemetery overlooking Omaha beach, the US president eulogised more than 9,387 US soldiers killed in the Battle of Normandy, 65 years after American, Canadian and British troops stormed ashore under torrents of Nazi fire.

"At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found within themselves the ability to do something extraordinary," Obama said.

"It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide," he said.

"Had the Allies failed here, Hitler's occupation of this continent might have continued indefinitely."

In what remains the biggest amphibious assault in history, some 156,000 Allied personnel landed in France on June 6, 1944.

An estimated 10,000 Allied troops were left dead, wounded or missing, while Germany lost between 4,000 and 9,000, and thousands of French civilians were killed.

"We will never forget the pain or the extent of the suffering and may we never renounce the dream of peace and justice for humanity," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said alongside Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Britons accounted for the lion's share of the 1,500 ex-servicemen spread across ceremonies in Normandy and Brown paid tribute to "the brave fighting men of the largest amphibious operation in the annals of warfare."

"This day marks the triumph of right over wrong... the victory of human decency over hatred and the Holocaust," he added.

But in a gaffe which could be interpreted as a symptom of domestic political troubles, Brown renamed the famed Omaha beach "Obama beach."

Obama was accompanied to the cemetery by his wife Michelle, who wore a crisp white Narciso Rodriguez suit, with Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in matching white Christian Dior.

Among guests at the ceremony was Tom Hanks, star of "Saving Private Ryan" which begins with graphic scenes depicting the Normandy landings.

Former Republican presidential candidate, senator and wounded World War II hero Bob Dole was there as was Charlie Payne, Obama's great uncle, who took part in the liberation of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp in Germany which Obama visited on Friday.

One veteran H. Smith Shumway, 87, a lieutenant who came ashore on D-Day, walked between the graves of his fallen comrades at the US cemetery on the cliffs overlooking Omaha beach.

"I want to thank you for your service," said a young US marine in dress uniform, shaking the hand of Shumway, who was blinded by an anti-tank mine in July 1944.

Shumway has been trying to find the remains of a US spy, captured and killed after they lost contact on a night patrol soon after D-Day.

Veteran George Charlesbois, 84, said: "I didn't come before because I was afraid to be too upset. But given my age I might not make it next time."

A draconian security lockdown was put in place in the Normandy village of Colleville for Obama's visit, with some 3,000 police and gendarmes deployed and roads and highways cut across the region.

But locals rolled out the red-carpet with streets festooned with Allied country flags and soldiers' photographs, and military enthusiasts patrolled in period jeeps and motorcycles.

Obama and his family received a hero's welcome after heading to Paris later on Saturday evening, as crowds gathered outside the city's Notre Dame cathedral and a restaurant in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

He is due to fly to the United States on Sunday at the end of a foreign tour that had already taken him to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

The US president also held talks with Sarkozy before the ceremony focusing on issues such as the Middle East and North Korea's nuclear weapon test that Obama said had been "extraordinarily provocative."

AFP/Expatica

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