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Chirac, Bush Hail D-Day Soldiers - 2004-06-06


President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have led ceremonies remembering the men who landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Western Europe from Nazi rule during World War II.

President Bush paid tribute to the brave and frightened men who made that crossing from Britain in the half-light of a Tuesday morning 60 years ago.

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

More than 9,000 allied soldiers are buried in this cemetery overlooking those beaches. President Chirac said it's a sacrifice honored by every French family.

"France will never forget," said president Chirac. "She will never forget that Sixth 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 yolk of Nazi barbarity and its murderous folly."

Sixty years on, many of those who survived D-Day are too old or too sick to make another trip to France. For 100 American veterans who did return, President Chirac awarded them the Cross of Chevalier in the Order of the Legion of Honor in the name of every French man and woman, bearing witness once more to what he called this ancient friendship and eternal alliance.

That friendship has been strained over the U.S. invasion of Iraq as President Chirac led opposition to the use of force against Saddam Hussein. But both presidents have sought to put those differences behind them during this trip to honor the heroes of World War II.

Richard Mandich parachuted into Holland as a member of the 101st Airborne, 506th parachute infantry regiment. In remembrance of fallen friends, he and his remaining comrades will parachute again.

"I was here for the 50th anniversary," he said. "We had 41 of us old veterans jump at that time. Now we have only about eight left who are ready and willing to do the jump and we are scheduled to do the jump tomorrow morning."

His eight-year-old grandson Jason stood running his hand over the clean marble edge of a white cross marking the grave of an infantryman from the state of Maryland. Jason's father Steve stroked his son's hair, hoping the boy one day appreciates his grandfather's service.

"It's amazing to see the older generation mix with each other and how they recognize the sacrifice that they made with each other," he said. "And for me, thirty or forty years younger than him, it puts it in perspective. And I brought my son just to share with it a little bit as well. Hopefully he will understand it as he gets older."

With veterans commanding a salute of heavy artillery, thousands of people stood along rows of white crosses and Stars of David, remembering those who fell 60 years ago today.

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