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Seventy-five years ago, tens of thousands of American, European and Canadian soldiers waded ashore France’s foggy northern coast to achieve a pivotal victory against Nazi Germany. In honor of the milestone D-Day anniversary, President Trump and other leaders convened at the American cemetery above the bloodiest landing site: Omaha Beach. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Normandy.
Seventy-five years ago today, through dawn on the Normandy coast of Northern France, landed tens of thousands of American, British, Canadian, and other Allied troops. And through waves of machine gunfire, chaos, and terror, the liberation of Europe from the clutches of Adolf Hitler began.
It was a sparkling morning on this D-Day, as President Trump and other leaders convened today on the solemn ground of the American Cemetery above the bloodiest landing site, Omaha Beach. They were joined by some survivors of one of history's most important days, The Longest Day.
Our special correspondent, Malcolm Brabant, has been in Normandy all week for us, and he returns now.
With a wavering arm, a veteran of The Longest Day saluted his commander in chief, as the American and French leaders honored the valor of June 6, 1944.
This place, the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, was described as freedom's altar by President Trump. Warmly embracing the American heroes, President Macron pinned the Legion of Honor, France's highest award, on the chests of five U.S. veterans, and he affirmed the bond between the two Allies.
We know what we owe to you veterans, our freedom. On behalf of my nation, I just want to say thank you.
There were 60 surviving U.S. veterans on the podium, and President Trump expressed his undying gratitude.
You're among the very greatest Americans who will ever live. You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
The president singled out two men in particular, Russell Pickett was wounded in the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach.
Russell Pickett is the last known survivor of the legendary Company A. And, today, believe it or not, he has returned once more to these shores to be with his comrades.
Private Pickett, you honor us all with your presence.
He had fond words for Staff Sergeant Ray Lambert, a medic credited with saving dozens of men on Omaha Beach, despite being wounded.
He had been on the beach for hours, bleeding and saving lives, when he finally lost consciousness. He woke up the next day on a cot beside another badly wounded soldier. He looked over and saw his brother Bill. They made it. They made it. They made it.
The veterans and many guests were required to arrive long before the ceremony because of the enormous security cordon, but they were kept waiting, first by French President Macron, and then after the scheduled start time, by President Trump.
With the graves of the fallen in the background, the president spoke with right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham of FOX News. Mr. Trump used the airtime to disparage his adversaries.
Before, you said you didn't care if Mueller testified.
Let me tell you, he made such a fool out of himself the last time he — because what people don't report is the letter he had to do to straighten out his testimony because his testimony was wrong. But Nancy Pelosi — I call her nervous Nancy.
Nancy Pelosi doesn't talk about it. Nancy Pelosi is a disaster.
Across the five landing beaches, gun salutes, buglers' laments, and fly-pasts were the order of the day 75 years on.
Strong men struggled to keep their emotions under control at Gold Beach, where the British came ashore, and at Juno, where the Canadians conducted themselves with distinction.
At the western edge of Omaha Beach, a sector called Dog Green, the magnitude of D-Day was put into perspective by Rob Citino, senior historian at the National World War II Museum.
Where does D-Day fit into the military history of the world? I would place it in the top five most important battles of all time, first, sheer size, second, complexity. Third, what were the stakes? And the stakes were ridding the world of Adolf Hitler. And I, frankly, can't think of a more important mission than that.
From this point, the challenges American forces faced are obvious. The Germans occupied the high ground, and had a clear field of fire. Close to German machine gun Post 62 is where one of the two men praised by President Trump feels most at home, with his memories and his modesty.
Staff Sgt. Ray Lambert:
They wanted to put "Ray Lambert, The Medical Hero," and I told them definitely not. I would not have just my name on there. And I said, I will give you a list of my 2nd Battalion medics that landed on the first wave, and you can put that on the plaque.
Despite being wounded three times, Lambert treated dozens of G.I.s behind what's known as Ray's Rock. After five hours, he lost consciousness in shallow water under heavy fire, but was carried to safety.
Well, this rock, to me, it saved many lives that day. As you can see, there was nothing else on the beach that we could really get the wounded guys behind.
The walking wounded could reach this rock and get behind it. And when I saw that the machine gun bullets were coming right off the hill, right at us, that's something, if possible, to find someplace where we could get those wounded soldiers behind it, so we could treat them.
Today has very much been a celebration of grand international military alliances. It's been all about patriotism. It's been all about defeating the evil that was represented by the German machine gunners on this hill as they rained fire on American troops just 200 yards away.
And as Ray Lambert tried to save his men, he was guided by a very personal set of principles.
Many times, you hear people say, well, I'm willing to die for my country. They're not really saying that. What they're saying is that they're willing to fight for their families and their country, because no one wants to die for any reason.
But these guys, I saw them in battle. I was their leader, and they were willing to put their life on the line for their families.
And so the Greatest Generation took their leave, perhaps never to return to the scene of their victory. But the memory of this last hurrah will live on.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Malcolm Brabant at Ray's Rock.
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Malcolm Brabant is a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
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