“Here, we don’t just commemorate victory, as proud of that victory as we are. We don’t just honor sacrifice, as grateful as the world is,” Obama said at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. “We come to remember why America and our allies gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril.”
French President Francois Hollande, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and nearly two dozen other world leaders attended the 70th French-American Commemoration D-Day Ceremony, according to USA Today.
At one point in the morning, Obama and Hollande stood privately overlooking a serene Omaha Beachfront, according to reports. The peaceful scene belied the waves of casualties that rolled over the shores of “Hell’s Beach” on June 6, 1944. Nearly 4,500 soldiers breathed their last on D-Day, as the battle between Allied forces and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich along the shores of Normandy has come to be known.
Obama vividly retold the oceanfront struggle between Allied and Axis powers that held the fate of Europe, and, ultimately, the fate of the free world, in the balance.
“Blood soaked the water,” the president said. “Bombs broke the sky … thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand. Entire companies’ worth of men fell in minutes.”
[ READ : Like Reagan, Obama Will Invoke Sacrifice on D-Day Anniversary]
As Obama stood on the shores where “the tide was turned in that common struggle for freedom,” he reminded those in attendance that World War II’s eventual victory was made possible “by so many others who wore America’s uniform.”
Obama recalled Allied troops storming the beaches of Sicily, Salerno and Anzio, Italy. He recalled the Marines battling from island to island in the Pacific.
“And back home, an army of women – including my grandmother – rolled up their sleeves to help build a mighty arsenal of democracy,” the president said.
Obama met before his address with seven World War II veterans and seven military members who had served since Sept. 11, 2001. Among the group of veterans was Harry Kulkowitz, who lied about his age at enlistment and later stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Obama recognized him during his speech, joking that “the statute of limitations has expired” for lying to recruitment officers. “Rock” Merritt and Wilson Colwell were also acknowledged by the president as survivors of D-Day.
Obama then recognized more recent military members in attendance, including Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, who served 10 deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to CNN. Remsburg was in a coma for three months after his platoon hit a roadside bomb in 2009. Obama acknowledged Remsburg in his State of the Union address earlier this year, according to the AP.
[ ALSO : D-Day Ship's US Flag Sells for $350K at New York City Auction of World War II Artifacts]
“I want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands,” Obama said, addressing the World War II veterans. “We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended the event Friday. The U.S. imposed financial sanctions against Russia earlier this year as a result of Russia's military involvement in Ukraine, which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as "what Hitler did back in the '30s," as reported by The Washington Post.
Obama and Putin, who were not scheduled to meet, did speak to one another for about 10 to 15 minutes during a lunch for the world leaders, the White House confirmed.
"President Obama and President Putin did speak with each other on the margins of the leaders lunch," said Ben Rhodes, a White House adviser. "It was an informal conversation – not a formal bilateral meeting."