President Obama marked the anniversary of the D-Day landings Friday with a tribute to the servicemen who stormed “democracy’s beachhead” 70 years ago, and the new generation of American soldiers who continue their mission.
"America's claim — our commitment to liberty, to equality, to freedom, to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity,” Obama said. “Omaha, Normandy — this was democracy’s beachhead."
“This 9/11 generation of service members, they too felt something,” Obama said. “They too answered the call. They said ‘I’ll go.’”
The anniversary celebration comes at a difficult time for the president, in no small part due to his administration’s handling of that new generation of war.
On Thursday, the acting head of the Veterans Affairs Department — strained by the return of soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan — admitted that 18 veterans had died and more than 100,000 had been delayed in receiving medical care due to mismanagement.
And in Washington, controversy is raging over the president’s decision to swap five Taliban detainees in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the lone prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict.
Although Obama made no direct reference to that controversy, he did said of D-Day that “in this age of instant commentary, the invasion would have swiftly and roundly been declared, as it was by one officer, 'a debacle.' " He also cautioned against a “race to judgment.”
The president also spoke under the shadow of the crisis in Ukraine, where government forces continue to clash with pro-Russian separatists. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also attending events Friday to mark the anniversary, setting up the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders since the beginning of the crisis.
While White House aides say they do not expect formal, bilateral talks, Obama has been peppered with questions throughout his week-long visit to Europe about what message he would convey when the pair speak. On Thursday, he said he would ask Putin to recognize the new government of Ukraine, continue withdrawing his troops from the border, and cease support for separatists.
But in Normandy, Obama spoke more broadly about America’s role as “the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”
"For in a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest and slough off common endeavor, this generation of Americans, our men and women of war, have chosen to do their part as well," Obama said.
He told stories of individual soldiers, both of the modern era and the battles of World War II, who demonstrated exceptional bravery and devotion to their country, even in the midst of impossible odds.
"Whenever the world makes you cynical, whenever you doubt that courage and goodness is possible, stop and think of these men,” Obama said.
And, Obama said, “we have to honor those who carry forward that legacy.”
"We come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril," Obama said. "And we come to tell the story of the men and women who did it, so that it remains seared into the memory of the future world."