65th anniversary of the Normandy Landings (June 6, 2009)
On June 6, 2009, after a private meeting in Caen with Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama came to the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. The whiteness of the 9,387 graves that overlook Omaha Beach stood out in the dazzling sunlight. Before the 7,000 people who had come to celebrate the event, including actor Tom Hanks, emblematic figure of the tribute film Saving Private Ryan, Nicolas Sarkozy gave the opening speech: “For the entire French nation you are twice, Mr. President, through your function and the blood that runs in your veins, the symbol of the American we love.” Barack Obama then welcomed his French, British and Canadian counterparts, as well as Prince Charles. Giving details of the battle of Normandy through to its conclusion, saluting the courage of the soldiers, he honored the memory of his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, and two of his great-uncles who fought in Europe during the war: “Friends and veterans, we cannot forget. What we must not forget is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and the selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century. (…) And long after our time on this Earth has passed, one word will still bring forth the pride and awe of men and women who will never meet the heroes who sit before us: D-Day.” Nicolas Sarkozy then decorated four veterans with the Légion d’honneur: American Zane Schlemmer, Englishman Jack Woods, Canadian Joseph Don Roach and Frenchman René Mendiondo. The four leaders and Prince Charles then placed a wreath during a minute of silence. The ceremony concluded with the last post and a 21-gun salute, followed by a flyover by French, British and American fighter planes.