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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

D-Day Commemorative Events

Aired June 6, 2004 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And so, we await the arrival of President Bush here at the American cemetery in Colleville, where there will be a commemorative event remembering D-Day. 60 years ago today, when the world changed. The American president's arrival somewhat delayed, because of fog, preventing Air Force One from arriving on schedule, but now the president about to touch down by helicopter here, at -- in Colleville, at the American cemetery.
Our viewers are noticing, the American flag is flying at half- staff here on this American cemetery, run by the U.S. military, half staff, because Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, passed away on Saturday at the age of 93 years old. There is no doubt, as the color guards prepare to receive the president of the United States, the French President Jacques Chirac is already here. They will remember Ronald Reagan, as well as they will remember the American and allied forces who stormed the beaches of Normandy and changed the world on this day 60 years ago.

Ronald Reagan was here 20 years ago, for the 40th anniversary of D-Day. His speech here is being remembered by so many today, because it was that speech, one of the more memorable speeches of his administration, in eight years in the White House, when he paid tribute to the U.S. Army rangers who scaled the cliffs of Pont du Hoc (ph) and began to turn the tide of World War II.

Veterans have gathered here from -- throughout the United States, those surviving veterans, and sadly, tragically, so many of those veterans pass away every day. But they have gathered here, on the 60th anniversary, as they gathered on the 50th anniversary 10 years ago, when President Bill Clinton was here, as they gathered on the 40th anniversary, when Ronald Reagan was here and led the commemorative events.

There is no doubt that these veterans are very emotional right now. They are emotional because so many of them remember their comrades in arms, who fell as they tried to defeat Nazi Germany.

Drew Griffin is watching all of this with us at the CNN center at Atlanta -- Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw earlier, Wolf, Tom Hanks, there, and it's -- it's interesting -- there was a turning point for these World War II veterans, we begin talking about their war again. It was -- maybe 20, 20 years ago, after the D-Day 40-year ceremony, when suddenly the story began to came up -- come out, and many of these men, who fought wanted to get their story out before they did pass away, and pass on the story to the next generation.

BLITZER: You are absolutely right, Drew, because so many of these veterans were silent in the years, in fact, in the decades after World War II. So many of them just couldn't talk about what they saw, what they experienced as they were young men, 18, 19, 20 year old. Young boys, really, who came -- had never experienced warfare, but they did experience it brutally on this day 60 years ago.

But only in more recent years have so many of them opened up. Tom Hanks, the actor is here. Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood producer, the director is here as well. They were instrumental in bringing these stories, so many of these stories to the United States, to the world.

In fact, over these recent years, they've dedicated so much of their activity to remembering D-Day, to remembering World War II.

The president of the United States getting ready to arrive here, on Marine One. He should be landing, Drew, very, very shortly, and then this formal D-Day commemorative event. We'll begin remembering what happened 60 years ago -- Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you mentioned these veterans opening up. It's been 60 years now, and every year many of them travel there to remember. Are you seeing any difference this year? Are the emotions just so thick, as we look back on this day some 60 years ago?

BLITZER: I was here 10 years ago, on the 50th anniversary. I was then a CNN senior White House correspondent, and when President Bill Clinton was here I remember meeting so may of the veterans here at the Colleville cemetery.

Here is what's different, and it's such an obvious point: They are 10 years older, they are 10 years more -- I guess, what you could say -- they are more frail, they are not as vibrant as they were 10 years ago, and certainly, that is showing. They are increasingly emotional, as they remember what's going on. And over the past few days as I've been here, and I've spoken to so many of these vets, they become emotional. Some of them start crying very, very easily, even as you begin to remember what happened.

For so many years they were stoic, for so many years they simply didn't talk about it. They didn't talk about it very often with their own children, although increasingly they are talking about it now with their grandchildren, and on many occasions, many respects their great grandchildren. And they're speaking about it with those who have come to report their oral histories.

Steven Spielberg's project, Tom Hanks' project. Because those oral histories should not be lost to future generations. What these individuals went -- went -- went through on this day, and on the days that followed 60 years ago.

If you hear helicopters flying overhead, those are part of the entourage, bringing the president of the United States here. You're looking at one of those Marine One helicopters. Several of those helicopters will be coming in, not only carrying the president, but his delegation, the White House chief of staff, the Secretary of State Colin Powell, the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. These helicopters getting ready to land here at the cemetery, and then the president will come over, will join with French President Jacques Chirac, the formal ceremonies will begin. The color guards, the U.S. and the French military, in all their glory will be here. They are already here getting ready for Marine One to land. The president will emerge from Marine One. He'll walk through the cordon. He'll begin this commemorative event together with French President Jacques Chirac. They will remember what happened 60 years ago. No doubt, though, they will also remember Ronald Reagan who passed away on Saturday.

You're looking at these live pictures of Marine One landing here, on the helipad, at the cemetery, getting ready for these commemorative events -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: Interesting, the president delayed by fog this morning, and, of course, on the original D-Day, fog and bad weather hampered the troops efforts there as well. This is Marine One, Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, it's either Marine One of the back up. We'll see shortly if the president emerges from this helicopter. It's a U.S. Marine helicopter. There are usually two that fly; one will carry the president and his immediate delegation. A second helicopter will carry other aides from the White House. They will both be arriving. We'll see which helicopter arrived first, and we will, of course, show our viewers these live pictures of the president emerging. If this is the Marine One, he will emerge from this helicopter. He'll be walking over to meet with the French President Jacques Chirac. Together, they will officiate at this D-Day commemorative event here, at the U.S. military cemetery in Colleville; 9,000 plus American troops are buried here. Another 1,000 who -- whose remains simply could not be identified here as well.

You are looking at this joint cordon, this joint color guard involving U.S. and French troops. The veterans, most importantly, they are here, they are guests of the U.S. military. They are guests of France, the government of France. They are guests here, because they were the heroes, of course, who saved the world -- Drew.

NGUYEN: Wolf, as we look at these pictures, especially, just moments ago, when we saw rows and rows of veterans, give us a sense of how many are there, on this very special day.

BLITZER: There are hundreds of American veterans who have gathered here, as they do every year, and certainly on the 10th anniversary at this decades since Normandy. How many there exactly -- unclear.

We're taking a look now. I believe this is Marine One, the president of the United States should be emerging from this helicopter. He started the day in Paris, flew from -- by Air Force One -- to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is not far away, a town here in Normandy, in France. The president, we expect, will be emerging from this helicopter. Secret Service guards. And there, of course, is the president and this is Laura Bush. They are emerging here at the Colleville Cemetery. They will walk over. They will be received by the French president and Mrs. Chirac. There they are.

Together, they will walk over to the cemetery and begin this elaborate ceremony, underscoring not only the tribute to the American (AUDIO GAP) that changed the world, but also, they will, no doubt, remember Ronald Reagan who passed away only yesterday. And the president -- the former president of the United States, no doubt very much will be remembered by at least President Bush. Presumably, President Chirac will remember Ronald Reagan as well.

The president of the United States, the French president walking over, joined by their wives, and they will be participating, leading this commemorative event. It's an opportunity not only to remember what happened on D-Day, but it's certainly, politically speaking, right now, U.S-French alliance, an opportunity to improve the relationship which has been strained over the past year plus, the relationship between the United States and France. That improvement began to unfold last night, when they had dinner at the Elysee Palace in France, in Paris, followed by a news conference. And that improvement will continue, no doubt, throughout today.

And these leaders will then go on to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Georgia for the G-8 summit, where they will participate in -- in more economic and political discussions setting the stage for what they hope will be a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, which presumably could open a new chapter in this U.S.-French relationship that has been strained as a result of what happened in Iraq.

They will be coming over here, they'll be paying their respects, laying a wreath here, and then they'll walk over and begin the formal ceremonies with all of the pump and circumstance that will be remembered by the French and the American military personnel.

GRIFFIN: So many personal ties that this president has towards the -- President Reagan, Wolf -- I can't help but think that this presidency might have not even existed if it weren't for Ronald Reagan choosing George Bush Sr. as his vice president running mate. Even though they were politically opposed in the primary runs.

BLITZER: In 1980, they had a bitter Republican primary. They -- they ran against each other. It was not very pleasant. George Bush the elder at one point, speaking of Ronald Reagan's economics as voodoo economics. But you know what? They buried the hatchet, they became allies.

President Reagan selected George Bush as his running mate. They served together for eight years, and by all accounts they developed a close relationship, a relationship that not only changed the political scenery but set the stage for George Bush himself to be elected president in 1988, being sworn in 1989 on January 20, serving one term. Defeated, of course, by Bill Clinton in 1992.

But now, after eight years of Clinton -- of Clinton in the White House -- George W. Bush is the president of the United States.

We're waiting now for the wreath laying when President Chirac and President Bush will lay this wreath in memory and honor of the U.S. and allied forces who died 60 years ago today. They will be coming over to this tomb over here, looking at this wide shot. This beautiful, beautiful American cemetery here in Colleville, on the beaches of Normandy.

After they lay this wreath here at the cemetery there will be a 21-gun salute in honor of all of the troops. There is Colin Powell, the secretary of state, Andy Card, the White House chief of staff. They, of course, worked very, very closely with Ronald Reagan during the Reagan administration.

Let's listen in as the invocation begins and the formal ceremonies begin to undertake -- begin to get under way here at the U.S. cemetery in Colleville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The laying of the wreath at the memorial by President George Bush of the United States, and President Jacques Chirac of France. A 21-gun salute, the playing of "Taps," the playing of the national anthems of France and the United States of America, and a flyover by military aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FRENCH).

BLITZER: First event will be this formal wreath laying here at the American cemetery, followed by a 21-gun salute. We'll watch all of this unfold. We'll remember the American troops who died on this day 60 years ago, and we'll remember Ronald Reagan as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: History records that in addressing his troops prior to the liberation, we celebrate today. Dwight D. Eisenhower said: "you are about to embark on a great crusade. The eyes of the world are upon you. And the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people go with you. We will accept nothing less than full victory."

We have gathered here to honor the full victory accomplished by more than 150,000 allied troops who stormed these beaches and cliffs. They advanced through a storm of enemy fire, through a sea of blood, through sands littered with their dead brothers in arms, through screams and suffering, all to set a people free.

Nine thousand of them died in this invasion. Many thousands more were wounded, maimed and injured. All across America, homes were hushed in sorrow as the young men of the United States gasped their last breaths on a distant shore, in a faraway land.

But burning with the flame bright beyond common understanding, they were heroes who led the way to win the high ground. They beat incredible odds and won the victory. As we understand even a small portion of their accomplishments on that day, we are staggered by their courage.

We give thanks to you, oh Lord, for them and for all who commit themselves to the struggle for justice, especially those who served in the cause of freedom during World War II. We honor the memory of our war dead. We respect the legacy of these yet living who fought on this day. May you bless them, the family and friends of former President Reagan, who departed this life yesterday, and all who participate in today ceremony, with your wisdom, strength and grace.

Amen.

BLITZER: President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac there walking across this bridge that has been built. It's a temporary bridge that has been built across a little reflecting pool at the American cemetery here in Normandy at Colleville, overlooking Omaha Beach, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during World War II. The largest seaborn invasion armada ever in history, resulted on this day, 60 years ago, in turning the tide, beginning the turn of the tide.

In Europe, 11 months later, Nazi Germany would be defeated.

The president of the United States, the president of France walking together, underscoring this U.S.-French alliance, an alliance going back to the Revolutionary War, an alliance that's been -- that has been somewhat strained recently over differences involving Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but right now both presidents anxious to try to improve this relationship.

They will lay this wreath here at the cemetery before there will be a 21-gun salute, and the commemorative events will continue. Let's watch.

The president of the United States, the president of France now walking over this reflecting pool. They will be surrounded by veterans. Veterans from D-Day, 60 years ago today. They stormed the beaches here at Normandy. They will be walking over the podium. The next item on the agenda after they cross this bridge over the reflecting pool will be the playing of this -- the national anthems of France and the United States, "Le Marseillaise" followed by "The Star- Spangled Banner." Then there will be a fly-over of four French Mirage air force jets from the 138 Alsa (ph) squadron, and then a fly over from U.S. A-10's.

They'll go from west to east. These planes will include the so- called missing man formation, in memory of those troops who did not return.

The president of the United States, the president of France on this very, very emotional day. The weather here at the Colleville cemetery is simply spectacular. God blessed all of us with a perfect day in France to remember what happened here 60 years ago.

Very emotional day for both the leaders of France and the United States.

The national anthems of both countries, beginning with "La Marceillaise."

Those are the A-10's, the U.S. Air Force A-10's, the missing man formation flying overhead.

Now, the president of France, Jacques Chirac.

JACQUES CHIRAC, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): D-Day veterans, Mr. President of the United States of America, ladies and gentlemen: We stand here on hallowed ground, in a place engraved forever in our memories for the role it has played in our history against the dark night of oblivion. We are gathered here today to pay homage, to pay tribute to the soldiers of freedom, to the legendary heroes of Operation Overlord. And against the swift passage of time, our presence together today is, indeed, a reminder to younger generations of the true significance of a war that continues to shape our understanding of the world.

France will never forget. She will never forget that 6th of June, 1944, the day hope was reborn and rekindled. She will never forget those men who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity and its murderous folly. Nor will it ever forget its debt to America, its everlasting friend, and to its allies -- all of them -- thanks to whom Europe, reunited at last, now lives in peace, freedom and democracy.

Sixty years ago, the fate of France, of Europe, and of the world was played out on these Normandy beaches. Here, on Omaha Beach, on bloody Omaha, today as we stand in respectful silence, our emotion is undimmed at the spectacle of these rows upon rows of crosses, where your companions, your brothers at arms, fallen on the field of honor, now rest for all of eternity. Our hearts are indeed heavy as we contemplate their courage, their self-sacrifice, their generosity. And our spirit is indeed uplifted by the absolute ideals of these youngsters who offered up their last breath to save the world.

I speak for every French man and woman in expressing our nation's eternal gratitude and unparalleled debt that our democracies owe them. I salute their courage, that flight of the human soul, which, by their refusal of enslavement, altered and, indeed, reshaped the course of history, and so conferred a new stature on mankind, upon nations and peoples. I salute the memory and the sacrifice of all these fighters. Overcoming their fear, all fears, and by the rightness of their struggle and the strength of their ideals, they raised the human conscience onto a higher plane.

Mr. President of the United States, this day of remembrance begins here at Colleville-sur-Mer, in this cemetery, where, for all time, America honors its sons who died so young in the name of freedom. They are now our sons also. And to the entire American nation, sharing this solemn moment with us, to all those men and women who paid the ultimate price of those heroic days, the message of France is, indeed, a message of friendship and brotherhood, a message of thanks, of appreciation, and gratitude.

For over 200 years now, the same humanist values have shaped the destinies of France and America. Our two nations have never ceased to share common love of liberty and law, of justice and democracy. These values are rooted in the very depths of our cultures and civilization. They are the spirit of our peoples. They are the heart and soul of our nations. From the plains of Yorktown to the beaches of Normandy, in the suffering of those global conflicts that have rent the past century, our two countries, our two peoples have stood shoulder to shoulder in the brotherhood of blood spilled, in defense of a certain ideal of mankind, of a certain vision of the world -- the vision that lies at the heart of the United Nations Charter.

Having experienced the long ordeal of war and occupation, France knows full-well just how much it owes to the United States of America, to the commitment of President Roosevelt, and to the leadership of General Eisenhower. Each of us, each and every French family cherishes the memory of those moments of joy that followed the D-Day landings. And we all remember, also, the terrible suffering during the course of the battle waged, the suffering of the soldiers, but also of the civilians.

And this friendship remains intact to this day. It is confident; it is indeed demanding; but it is founded in mutual respect. America is our eternal ally, and that alliance and solidarity are all the stronger for having been forged in those terrible hours. And in America's time of trial, when barbarity wreaks death, havoc and destruction in America and elsewhere in the world, as in the tragedy of September the 11th, 2001, a date burned forever into our memories and hearts, France stands side by side every man and woman in America. Their grief is our grief. In conferring the Cross of Chevalier in the Order of the Legion of Honor this morning on 100 American veterans here today, I have wanted the name of every French man and woman to bear witness once again, once more, to this ancient friendship and to our gratitude.

Ladies and gentlemen, this moment of remembrance is also a moment for words of peace, for the glorious combat of these men to whom we are paying tribute today places upon us a duty -- a duty vis-a-vis the future, and indeed, for the present. Sixty years ago, these soldiers of freedom took up arms to ensure the triumph of the values to which men and women everywhere aspire and subscribe -- a vision of humanity and human dignity, of peace, freedom, and democracy. But there is no end to this struggle of man against himself, in a dangerous world where violence and hatred too often stir up men, and even peoples. The message of these heroes, the heroes of the "longest day," the flame that our forefathers bore so proudly and have now bequeathed onto us are our common heritage, which implies a corresponding duty of remembrance for us -- a duty of remembrance, a duty to recall this still recent past when fanaticism, the rejection of those who are different from us, the rejection of others, cast men, women and children into the night, the fog of the death camps.

We must never forget that without a compass, without remaining faithful to the lessons of history, there can be no future. We have also a duty of vigilance, also a duty to fight ruthlessly all these upsurges and seedbeds of hatred that feed on ignorance on obscurantism and on intolerance. And we have a duty of remaining faithful to our values so that our generation may build and pass on to our children a world of progress and freedom, as is indeed their birthright -- to build that society which bears the hallmark of respect and dialogue, of tolerance and solidarity that was the very quintessence of the struggle we are commemorating today, to keep alive for all time the spirit of hope. (Applause.)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. President and Mrs. Chirac; Secretary Powell and Secretary Principi; General Myers; members of the United States Congress; my fellow Americans; and ladies and gentlemen: It is a high honor to represent the American people here at Normandy on the 6th of June, 2004.

Twenty summers ago, another American President came here to Normandy to pay tribute to the men of D-Day. He was a courageous man, himself, and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom. And today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan. (Applause.)

Mr. President, thank you for your gracious welcome to the reunion of allies. History reminds us that France was America's first friend in the world. With us today are Americans who first saw this place at a distance, in the half-light of a Tuesday morning long ago. Time and providence have brought them back to see once more the beaches and the cliffs, the crosses and the Stars of David.

Generations to come will know what happened here, but these men heard the guns. Visitors will always pay respects at this cemetery, but these veterans come looking for a name, and remembering faces and voices from a lifetime ago. Today, we honor all the veterans of Normandy and all their comrades who never left. (Applause.)

On this day in 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the American people, not with a speech, but with a prayer. He prayed that God would bless America's sons and lead them straight and true. He continued, "They will need thy blessings. They will be sore tired by night and by day without rest, until victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war."

As Americans prayed along, more than 12,000 Allied aircraft and about 5,000 Naval vessels were carrying out General Eisenhower's order of the day. In this massive undertaking, there was a plan for everything -- except for failure. Eisenhower said, "This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it is going to be."

They had waited for one break in the weather, and then it came. Men were sent in by parachute and by glider. And on this side of the Channel, through binoculars and gun sights, German soldiers could see coming their way the greatest armada anyone had ever seen. In the lead were hundreds of landing craft, carrying brave and frightened men. Only the ones who made that crossing can know what it was like. They tell of the pitching deck, the whistles of shells from the battleships behind them, the white jets of water from enemy fire around them, and then the sound of bullets hitting the steel ramp that was about to fall.

One GI later said, "As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down, I became a visitor to hell."

Hitler's Atlantic Wall was composed of mines and tank obstacles, trenches and jutting cliffs, gun emplacements and pill boxes, barbed wire, machine gun nests and artillery trained accurately on the beach. In the first wave of the landing here at Omaha, one unit suffered 91 percent casualties. As General Omar Bradley later wrote, "Six hours after the landings, we held only 10 yards of beach." A British commando unit had half its men killed or wounded while taking the town of St. Aubin. A D-Day veteran remembers, "The only thing that made me feel good was to look around and try to find somebody who looked more scared than I felt. That man was hard to find."

At all the beaches and landing grounds of D-Day, men saw some images they would spend a lifetime preferring to forget. One soldier carries the memory of three paratroopers dead and hanging from telephone poles "like a horrible crucifixion scene." All who fought saw images of pain and death, raw and relentless.

The men of D-Day also witnessed scenes they would proudly and faithfully recount, scenes of daring and self-giving that went beyond anything the Army or the country could ask. They remember men like Technician 5th Grade John Pinder, Jr., whose job was to deliver vital radio equipment to the beach. He was gravely wounded before he hit shore, and he kept going. He delivered the radio, and instead of taking cover, went back into the surf three more times to salvage equipment. Under constant enemy fire, this young man from Pennsylvania was shot twice again, and died on the beach below us.

The ranks of the Allied Expeditionary Force were filled with men who did a specific assigned task, from clearing mines, to unloading boats, to scaling cliffs, whatever the danger, whatever the cost. And the sum of this duty was an unstoppable force. By the end of June 6th, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers had breached Fortress Europe.

When the news of D-Day went out to the world, the world understood the immensity of the moment. The New York Daily News pulled its lead stories to print the Lord's Prayer on its front page. In Ottawa, the Canadian Parliament rose to sing, "God Save the King" and the "Marseillaise." Broadcasting from London, King George told his people, "This time the challenge is not to fight to survive, but to fight to win." Broadcasting from Paris, Nazi authorities told citizens that anyone cooperating with the Allies would be shot. And across France, the Resistance defied those warnings.

Near the village of Colleville, a young woman on a bicycle raced to her parent's farmhouse. She was worried for their safety. Seeing the shattered windows and partially caved-in roof, Anne Marie Broeckx called for her parents. As they came out of the damaged house, her father shouted, "My daughter, this is a great day for France."

As it turned out, it was a great day for Anne Marie, as well. The liberating force of D-Day included the young American soldier she would marry, an Army Private who was fighting a half a mile away on Omaha Beach. It was another fine moment in Franco-American relations. (Laughter.)

In Amsterdam, a 14-year-old girl heard the news of D-Day over the radio in her attic hiding place. She wrote in her diary, "It still seems too wonderful, too much like a fairy tale. The thought of friends in delivery fills us with confidence." Anne Frank even ventured to hope, "I may yet be able to go back to school in September or October."

That was not to be. The Nazis still had about 50 divisions, and more than 800,000 soldiers in France alone. D-Day plus one, and D-Day plus two and many months of fierce fighting lay ahead, from Arnhem to Hurtgen Forest to the Bulge.

Across Europe, Americans shared the battle with Britains, Canadians, Poles, free French, and brave citizens from other lands taken back one by one from Nazi rule. In the trials and total sacrifice of the war, we became inseparable allies. The nations that liberated a conquered Europe would stand together for the freedom of all of Europe. The nations that battled across the continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace. And our great alliance of freedom is strong, and it is still needed today.

The generation we honor on this anniversary, all the men and women who labored and bled to save this continent, took a more practical view of the military mission. Americans wanted to fight and win and go home. And our GIs had a saying: The only way home is through Berlin. That road to V-E Day was hard and long, and traveled by weary and valiant men. And history will always record where that road began. It began here, with the first footprints on the beaches of Normandy.

Twenty years after D-Day, former President Eisenhower returned to this place and walked through these rows. He spoke of his joy of being a grandfather, and then he said, "When I look at all these graves, I think of the parents back in the states whose only son is buried here. Because of their sacrifice, they don't have the pleasure of grandchildren. Because of their sacrifice, my grandchildren are growing up in freedom."

The Supreme Commander knew where the victory was won, and where the greatest debt was owed. Always our thoughts and hearts were turned to the sons of America who came here and now rest here. We think of them as you, our veterans, last saw them. We think of men not far from boys who found the courage to charge toward death and who often, when death came, were heard to call, "Mom," and, "Mother, help me." We think of men in the promise years of life, loved and mourned and missed to this day.

Before the landing in Omaha, Sergeant Earl Parker of Bedford, Virginia proudly passed around a picture of Danny, the newborn daughter he had never held. He told the fellows, "If I could see this daughter of mine, I wouldn't mind dying." Sergeant Parker is remembered here at the Garden of the Missing. And he is remembered back home by a woman in her 60s, who proudly shows a picture of her handsome, smiling, young dad.

All who are buried and named in this place are held in the loving memory of America. We pray in the peace of this cemetery that they have reached the far shore of God's mercy. And we still look with pride on the men of D-Day, on those who served and went on. It is a strange turn of history that called on young men from the prairie towns and city streets of America to cross an ocean and throw back the marching, mechanized evils of fascism. And those young men did it. You did it. (Applause.)

That difficult summit was reached, then passed, in 60 years of living. Now has come a time of reflection, with thoughts of another horizon, and the hope of reunion with the boys you knew. I want each of you to understand, you will be honored ever and always by the country you served and by the nations you freed.

When the invasion was finally over and the guns were silent, this coast, we are told, was lined for miles with the belongings of the thousands who fell. There were life belts and canteens and socks and K-rations and helmets and diaries and snapshots. And there were Bibles, many Bibles, mixed with the wreckage of war. Our boys had carried in their pockets the book that brought into the world this message: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

America honors all the liberators who fought here in the noblest of causes, and America would do it again for our friends. May God bless you. (Applause.)

BLITZER: And so, the president of the United States, the president of France have now spoken at this U.S.-French memorial, remembering the men of D-Day. Now, the president and the French President Jacques Chirac -- they are going to personally welcome some of those veterans who have gathered here. They're now at least in their late 70s, many of them, of course, in their 80s, and even a few are already in their 90s, if they are well enough to have come to this 60th anniversary of D-Day.

This French-American ceremony a moving tribute to all of them. The president of the United States also remembering in his opening statement the memory of Ronald Reagan, who passed away at age 93 only yesterday.

From here, the French president will go to separate services -- separate memorial services with the Canadians, with the British, with other European allies, and also, later in the day, a separate service even with the chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schroeder, who has come here the first time ever, that a leader of Germany will participate in the D-Day commemorative events.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will be here as well. He will participate in a separate international ceremony together with French President Jacques Chirac.

President Bush will stay here for some time. He'll have some lunch here before he gets ready to live France to fly to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Georgia for the G-8 summit. The G-8 summit scheduled to begin tomorrow, with other leaders of the most industrialized nations.

You see Senator George McGovern behind President Bush. So many of these World War II veterans have gathered here to remember and to reflect what happened here only 60 years ago. What a remarkable transition.

There was, by both the president of the United States and the president of France a clear, deliberate effort to try to patch over some of the serious strains that have developed in this relationship over the past year or two, especially as the U.S. led the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

France will never forget what the United States did to liberate this country, Jacques Chirac told this group,on this hallowed ground, here at the U.S. military cemetery, in Colleville. It was a day that hope was reborn, the French president said, and France will never forget its debt to America.

America, he said, is our eternal ally. And he also paid tribute to America in the aftermath of 9/11, saying that that day will burn forever in the minds of France. France stands side by side with the United States as it continues to remember what happened on 9/11.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is covering the president, traveling with the president. She is here as well. The president got here a little bit late, Dana, I take it there was fog that prevented Air Force One from arriving on schedule.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the president was arriving not too far from here, and as time he was delayed. He tried to land twice in Air Force One, but couldn't because of the fog, obviously. He did eventually get here and made a speech that White House aides had told us would be really focused on the sacrifices of the men who died, and a few women who died here, on the beaches 60 years ago, and also the veterans, as you heard President Bush talking about, who are here, who sacrificed a lot as well, and have all those memories, he said, that they would have preferred many times to forget.

But he also, at the beginning, did make a note of a very important speech that was given 20 years ago here in Normandy, and that was, of course, by President Reagan. And President Bush called him "a gallant leader in the cause of freedom."

And as you mentioned, President Bush did make some mention of the alliance between the United States and France. This trip, of course -- this trip through Europe, Wolf, the president has been trying to mend fences, talking about the importance of the alliance vis-a-vis the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. The White House aides made clear that the president didn't want to talk about that today. What he wanted to do was to tell stories of the men who sacrificed their lives here, on the beaches of Normandy 60 years ago, and again, the veterans who are here, essentially take us back in time a little bit, and that was the focus of the president's speech here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, what does the president do after he finishes saying hello and shaking the hands of so many of these D-Day veterans? What does he do next?

BASH: He is going to go not too far from here, and have some pictures taken with the 16 other leaders who are here today, the leaders and their wives.

Then he is going to go to some ceremonies with those leaders, and as you mentioned earlier, one of those leaders is German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. That is a first, of course, for a German leader to be at any kind of event here in Normandy. And it's also interesting that the president will be with him, side by side, as the president does talk during this trip about the need to mend fences on the war in Iraq.

Of course, Germany along with France had really opposed the war in Iraq, and the president is trying to move forward on that, and he has had some success during this trip. So it will be interesting to see President Bush with the German leader.

It's interesting, Wolf, the president often, when he talks about the war in Iraq, he tries to equate it with the difference between then World War II and now, alliances between the United States and countries like Germany and particularly Japan. Talks about the fact that often when the president is sitting with the prime minister of Japan, he remembers that 60 years ago Japan was an enemy, and he often talks about the fact that he hopes that for example in Iraq, the future leader of Iraq will have a similar relationship with the future president of the United States. So that is something that's clearly probably is on the president's mind as he deals amidst with leaders that -- 16 other leaders, particularly the German and French leaders here.

BLITZER: And Dana, once the president, after the next few hours, he'll stay here in Normandy; he'll then continue on as scheduled to the G-8 summit, the summit of the major industrialized leaders in Sea Island, Georgia. Is there any indication any of these--the immediate schedule of the President will change as a result of the death of Ronald Reagan?

BASH: At this point they're saying that there is no immediate change in the schedule. What the White House is saying is that they think perhaps some of the memorial services that the President will have to go to could be at the end of the week but they are waiting for the final details of all of those arrangements. As you mentioned, the President will be in Sea Island, Georgia hosting many, many world leaders starting on Monday night and that is something that the President is still planning to go to and there is simply--we're going to wait to see what the final arrangements are for any--for President Reagan to lie in state and also for memorial services. At this point they are saying, though, no change in schedule. The President is still going to head to Georgia.

BLITZER: Later in the week, towards the end of the week there will be the memorial service at the National Cathedral for Ronald Reagan. The President will certainly be back in Washington for that together with so many of these other world leaders, including the French president Jacques Chirac, will be going off to Georgia as well for this G8 summit. Jacques Chirac spoke in French, although he does speak English, speaks English rather well. I've interviewed him in English, he spent a year studying at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, although when he speaks publicly he, of course, likes to speak in French. They seem to have, Dana, a pretty good relationship despite some of the serious policy differences that have surfaced over the past year and that certainly was made clear by the President on the eve of his arrival here in France. He gave an interview to "Paris Match," the French magazine in which he spoke very, very glowingly of Jacques Chirac, didn't he?

BASH: I'm sorry, Wolf, could you repeat that? I think you talked about the relationship--I'll just sort of jump in. I think you were talking about the relationship between the French president and the U.S. president. It was very interesting to watch their body language. They had a press conference yesterday and they had a-- President Chirac greeted President Bush and not only did they come before the cameras and made sure to smile, they went back out, the photographers called for them. They came out for an encore just to make sure that they were seen shaking hands and smiling.

They had been going out of their way to say that what is past is past and the relationship is going to be repaired. As you heard President Bush saying today that the U.S. and France are inseparable allies. But this president is somebody who really took a lot of stock in personal relationships and his personal relationships with some of his key allies like, for example, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whom he met with just a couple of days ago here in Europe. That is quite a different kind of tenor, a different kind of body language between those two men and President Bush and President Chirac, but yes, there is no question that both presidents were trying to make it abundantly clear that the strain in their relationship that they admitted definitely was there because of the war in Iraq is, they hope, in the past and they are trying to move forward and you see with just some substance that they are trying to get a new resolution on Iraq and that could happen within the next couple of days.

BLITZER: And to our viewers who may just be tuning in in the United States and North America, the President of the United States, the French President, Jacques Chirac, they have now spoken at this memorial service remembering the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe, the liberation of France that started on this day. The liberation of the rest of Europe 11 months later, the defeat of Nazi Germany, the destruction of Hitler's empire in Europe. Dana Bash, thanks very much for joining us. Dana is going to continue to cover the President. These pictures now we are seeing, Queen Elizabeth is here in Normandy. The next ceremony will be a French- Canadian ceremony. Queen Elizabeth will be participating in that as well as a separate ceremony remembering the UK, the United Kingdom and France. That relationship. The alliance that was forged so many years ago. Britain, of course, playing such a critical role in the liberation of France, as the United States.

Separate ceremonies, the French President Jacques Chirac will be joining Queen Elizabeth at the Canadian ceremony, at the British ceremony, there will be several additional ceremonies as well. Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister is here as well. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin is here. The Canadian Prime Minster, Paul Martin, so many other leaders, including the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. They have all gathered on this 60th anniversary of D-Day to remember how the world changed, how the Nazis were defeated beginning on this day in the United States.

The President of the United States continuing to meet with some veterans here at the Colville Cemetery. Queen Elizabeth getting ready for the separate ceremonies as well. This is a very, very emotional day for so many people, especially the veterans who have gathered here, so many of these veterans have not only come by themselves, they've come with their wives, they've come with their children and many of them have come with their grandchildren. This will be for so many of these veterans the last major opportunity that they will have to remember D-Day, to remember World War II, most importantly, for them to remember their fallen comrades. Many of them are buried here at the U.S. Military Cemetery in Colville. The President is continuing to meet with these vets, to meet with these heroes of World War II.

The French President Jacques Chirac talking with the President. President Chirac will then continue on to some of these other separate bilateral commemorative events, the Canadian ceremony, the British ceremony, as well.

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