On June 6th, President Trump and French President Macron commemorated the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, keeping their words reverent and devoid of politics.
President Trump and American officials arrived at Omaha Beach, in Normandy this morning to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. They spoke at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in the municipality of Colleville-sur-Mer, focusing their words to honor the soldiers who fought at Normandy and also to honor the shared commitments of the U.S. and France.
To begin, a video presentation was shown in which several D-Day veterans vividly recounted their experiences on June 6, 1944. The crowd gave a standing ovation afterwards as videographers panned the stage to show the dozens of veterans who made the trek to be there today. Many arrived in wheelchairs, donning decorated medals and caps.
A number of U.S. lawmakers were also present in the crowd, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators Lankford and Barrasso.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Macron, joined by their wives, walked down a short path to the cemetery to lay flowers at the grave of one of the soldiers. Each grave was marked with a small French and American flag. They remained at the grave for several minutes, chatting amongst themselves.
At 11:24 AM local, President Trump and President Macron, of France, processed down a red carpet adorned on both sides by American and French flags, followed by their wives. The two leaders paused to shake hands with a number of the American World War II veterans present at the ceremony, one of whom asked Mr. Trump to greet the foreign veterans too.
“Hey, you’re our president too. Come on up this way,” the veteran was heard to say. The same man later told Mr. Trump that he has many supporters in Pennsylvania, which appeared to delight members of the president’s staff as well as his two adult sons, who were all seated in the front row.
“There’s a lot of people back in Pennsylvania who want to vote for you,” the man said. Others shouted, “We love you,” and “God Bless you, President Trump.”
Generally, though, politics remained absent from the day’s commemorative rhetoric.
Retired Major General. William Matz Jr., Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, spoke, recognizing the 160 World War II veterans seated on stage today “who need no reminder of the horrors of war and who remember well their comrades who never came home.”
He then quoted a line from American writer Archibald MacLeish’s poem entitled “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak.”
President Macron, of France, took the stage after Mr. Matz, delivering his remarks in both French and English. He spoke of former President Eisenhower’s famous one-liner that initiated Operation Overlord: “OK, let’s go.”
“Their days of youth seem too far behind,” Mr. Macron said of the American soldiers who were as young as 20 on D-Day. “Far from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or New Jersey… Far from their school years when they were learning a trade.”
Of the American fighters, he continued, “France has not forgotten those fighters to whom we owe the right to live in freedom.” He remarked, in reverence of American soldiers, that “we know that we owe to you, veterans, our freedom. On behalf of my nation, I just want to say thank you.”
Toward the end of his remarks, he spoke of the European Union and NATO being emblematic of the “alliances of free people” that the world saw on D-Day. Mr. Trump, of course, has clearly expressed his dislike for both NATO and the EU, but this disagreement did not surface during the commemoration.
Speaking of the unification the U.S. and France in the name of freedom, Mr. Macron memorialized the soldiers saying, “Young Americans died here. They died for their country for the freedom of the world. French died on the same beaches for the liberation of their country. They also fell so that their nation, once this task completed, would rediscover its tradition of liberty.”
After his remarks, Macron awarded one of France’s highest orders of merit, the Legion of Honour, to five veterans on stage.
Next, Mr. Trump spoke, first thanking President Macron and turning toward the veterans behind him, specifically recognizing the 60 American veterans who were at Normandy on D-Day.
“You are the pride of our nation, you are the glory of the republic, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” he said, as the crowd gave a standing ovation to the veterans.
President Trump talked about the various allied groups who fought together on D-Day: the “fighting Poles,” the “tough Norwegians,” the “intrepid Aussies,” and the “gallant French commanders…ready to write a new chapter in the long history of French valor.”
“And finally, there were the Americans,” Mr. Trump continued. “They came from the farms of a vast heartland, the streets of glowing cities and the forges of mighty industrial towns. Before the war, many had never ventured beyond their own community. Now, they had come to offer their lives halfway across the world.”
The president also recognized several surviving heroes by name, including former Army medic Arnold Raymond “Ray” Lambert, who served in the 16th Infantry Regiment of the army’s First Division, known as “The Big Red One.” At 98 years old, Mr. Lambert has said this is likely the last time he will come to Normandy. Mr. Trump paused his remarks at this point and walked with Mr. Macron to shake Mr. Lambert’s hand. Mr. Lambert, in a “D-Day veteran” hat, tipped it toward the president.
He also spoke of Russell Pickett, 94, who was only 19 years old on D-Day. Mr. Pickett was tasked with operating a flamethrower to protect his fellow infantry brothers as they came ashore. “Tough guy,” the president said of Mr. Pickett, whose boat was blown to pieces before he made it to the beach.”You honor us all with your presence,” he added.
Of the American soldiers who died at Normandy, Trump said, “9,388 young Americans rest beneath the white crosses and stars of David arrayed on these beautiful grounds. Each one has been adopted by a French family… they come, they kneel, they pray,” and continued, “today, America embraces the French people and thanks you for honoring our beloved dead.”
Like Mr. Macron, Mr. Trump also spoke about D-Day as being representative of the importance of global alliances, though he did not name any specific alliances, stating that “to all our friends and partners, our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battled, tested in the trials of war and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable. From across the Earth, Americans are drawn to this place as though it were a part of our very soul.”
He finished his speech by honoring fallen American soldiers. “More powerful than the strength of American arms was the strength of American hearts. These men ran through the fires of hell, moved by a force no weapon could destroy: the fierce patriotism of a free, proud and sovereign people,” he concluded.
The two presidents departed the ceremony together with their wives at 12:45 PM local. They processed back down the red carpet, stopping halfway down for the 21-gun salute.
They proceeded down the carpet at the salute’s conclusion, chatting along the way. They made their way to an overlook along the coastline, where they paused for a rendition of Taps and a moment of silence.
The two leaders stayed there for several minutes to view a map of the D-Day invasion, which a docent explained to them. Mr. Trump listened intently, placing his knuckles on the map as though it were a boardroom table. He and Mr. Macron turned around and chatted a bit more as they watched a series of flyovers.
The two leaders were seated alone in a palatial room, beneath a stunning chandelier. They appeared to get along, nodding at each other’s remarks and talking at length about their experiences with World War II veterans this morning.
Mr. Trump maintained that they worked well together, saying, “I will say we’ve had tremendous success working together.” Specifically, he referenced French participation in the campaign against ISIS. The president stated that U.S. military personnel routinely tell him how “absolutely excellent” the French navy is.
He then transitioned back to the D-Day anniversary, saying, “This was a special day. We read about it all our lives and there are those who say it was the most important day ever.” He added, “I look forward to coming back, hopefully many years we’ll be coming back.” In his superlative style, he said that the D-Day invasion is “near the top” of history’s most important moments. “In some cases, it is the top.”
Mr. Trump then previewed their bilateral talks. “We’ll be discussing trade and military and all sorts of things. A lot of people are anxious to see what we’re going to be doing together because as you know, and a lot of other people don’t know, we’re doing a lot together,” he stated. He talked highly of the current relationship between the U.S. and France, calling it “outstanding” and “terrific.”
According to the LA Times, Mr. Macron also spoke highly of Mr. Trump and touched upon the strong military relationship between the U.S. and France, specifically in World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, and Syria, advocating for the shared goal to “protect democracy everywhere.”
Mr. Macron concluded with, “Thanks for this friendship, thanks for what your country did for our country, and thanks for what our two countries can do together.”
The two leaders took also took questions from reporters
On Brexit and Mr. Trump’s British visit, the president was vague, stating: “Very big news will be who is the new prime minister in the U.K. So I think before you can find out what’s going to happen in the next few weeks you have to find out who’s going to be the next leader.”
On the timing of new tariffs on China, Mr Trump said, “I make that decision in the next two weeks after the G20. I will be meeting with President Xi and we’ll see what happens, we’re probably planning it sometime after G20.”
On disagreements with Macron over Iran, Mr. Trump denied the existence of discord despite their historical disagreement on the nuclear accord with Iran. The president said, “I don’t think we have differences over Iran. The president doesn’t want to see Iran have nuclear weapons and neither do it.” Mr. Trump continued with a usual quip of his, saying that, “[Iran is] failing as a nation and I don’t want to see them fail as a nation. We can turn that around quickly.”
Mr. Macron jumped in to say he thinks that “we do share the same objective.”
“We had an instrument until 2025,” Macron said of the nuclear deal but “we want to go further.” Macron added, “So we have to deliver together this sole objective.”
While the D-Day commemoration remained respectfully apolitical, unusual in this era of potent political polarization, the meeting between the two leaders is a reminder of just what is at stake in the sphere of global politics, and the underlying divisions and fractures that exist.