Mark Landler and Maggie Haberman — New York Times
June 6, 2019
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Standing on a sun-drenched bluff above the Normandy beaches, where 10,000 soldiers sacrificed themselves to a savage fusillade of gunfire and opened the way for Europe’s liberation in 1944, President Donald Trump declared on Thursday, “We are gathered here on freedom’s altar.”
Seventy-five years after the D-Day invasion, the President, who has called into question America’s alliances around the world — including with countries that fought with the United States in Normandy — pledged fidelity to friendships “forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war, and proven in the blessings of peace.”
It was Trump’s only reference to the importance of the Atlantic alliance, in a speech that dwelt on the service of D-Day’s American veterans. Dozens of them were seated behinds him overlooking the white grave markers of fallen comrades, and Omaha Beach beyond.
Speaking gravely, Trump recounted stories of heroism and suffering, often in graphic terms. The veterans not only had vanquished Nazi tyranny, he said, but built the American century.
“To the men who sit behinds me and to the boys who rest in the field before me,” President Trump said, “your example will never, ever grow old, your legend will never tire, your spirit — brave, unyielding, and true — will never die.”
Ultimately, it was less a day to litigate differences regarding NATO and the European Union, than to mark a momentous piece of shared history. U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by French President Emmanuel Macron, and their wives Melania Trump and Brigitte Macron, walked to an observation point overlooking Omaha Beach, as artillery cannons fired a 21-gun salute. A guide pointed out the waves of the assault on a map, before the leaders turned to gaze at the sea, now quiet, but for a single warship keeping watch.
Overhead, vintage American warplanes rumbled past, while advanced fighter jets streaked through the skies, trailing red, white, and blue contrails. The planes flew in “missing man formation,” in which they fly together, before one abruptly pulls out of the formation and climbs to signify a fallen warrior.
“This was a special day,” Trump said. “We read about it all our lives, and there are those who say it was the most important ever.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron tried to put their differences on the back burner. “The relationship we’ve had together has been terrific,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Macron suggested their disagreements on Iran were largely a matter of tactics.
On Thursday, President Trump spoke of Ray Lambert, who landed on the beach as a 23-year-old Army medic with his brother Bill. Only seven of the 31 soldiers on Mr. Lambert’s landing craft survived. As the bullets cut down his comrades, he raced repeatedly back into the sea to drag out wounded soldiers.
“He was shot through the arm,” Mr. Trump said. “His leg was ripped open by shrapnel. His back was broken. He nearly drowned. He had been on the beach for hours, bleeding and saving lives, when he finally lost consciousness.”
When Mr. Lambert woke up on a cot the next day, he found his brother lying beside him. President Trump turned and gestured to Mr. Lambert, now 98, who was sitting behind him. It drew some of the loudest applause of the day.
In giving words to the long-ago fury of D-Day, President Trump followed in the footsteps of predecessors who marked this occasion with some of the most memorable addresses of their presidencies. In 1984, on the 40th anniversary, President Ronald Reagan gestured to the veterans of the invasion, who were arrayed before him.
“These are the boys of Point du Hoc,” Reagan said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Trump did not match the oratorical heights of Mr. Reagan, whose speech was recognized as one of his finest. Trump’s speech evoked the ominous tone, in its graphic depiction of the horror on the beaches.
As President Trump greeted the veterans — some in wheelchairs and shrouded in warming blankets — one man yelled, “Hey, you’re our president, too. Come on up this way. There’s a lot of people back in Pennsylvania who want to vote for you.”