Sunday, June 6, 2004

OTTAWA DAILY TIMES: President Bush honors the "Greatest Generation" during 60th anniversary of D-Day

COLEVILLE SUR MER, FRANCE -- Under clear skies and a glaring sun -- nothing like the stormy, wet morning some 60 years ago -- President George W. Bush paused to remember one great sacrifice of "The Greatest Generation."

"A D-Day veteran remembers the only thing that made me feel good was looking around to find someone more scared than I felt. That man was hard to find."

President Bush's words echoed across a garden of veterans, both those who are laid to rest in the Normandy American Military Cemetery, and those who have gathered to pay their respects to the fallen.

Men like Medal of Honor Recipient Walter H. Eehlers. Eehlers and his brother both fought in the D-Day invasion.

"I tell people that my brother was my greatest hero because we fought together through Africa and Sicily. This was our third invasion, and he didn't make it."

There are a million of stories like Eehlers. Men who were scared beyond belief and in the face of great peril they performed a miracle that our generation and those that follow can never repay.

They're the focus of this 60th anniversary commemoration on these hallowed grounds.

"These guys are here because they relied on each other to get the job done. If I might be so bold, this is the great strength of the United States of America," says actor Tom Hanks, who starred in the popular World War Two film "Saving Private Ryan."

"My Dad instilled in me the importance of remembering what the World War II veterans did in allowing the World War II to even exist because they saved the World," adds film director Steven Spielberg, whose father served in the China-India-Burma campaign.

Speaker of the House and U.S. Congressman from Illinois Dennis Hastert was also on hand to pay tribute to the veterans, including fellow politicians from Illinois.

"Bob Michaels served in the House of Representatives from Peoria. He was in D-Day plus four and later wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. I think it's important we have to let generations understand what these men fought for."

In a sign of solidarity, French President Jaques Chirac joined President Bush for the ceremonies near Omaha Beach. If there is any lingering disagreement on the U.S. occupation of Iraq or the War on Terror, those who pay their repsects here including Chirac, fully understand the sacrifice that was necessary to make his country, and an entire world, free.

Bush underscored the importance of the moment to the veterans that gathered here 60 years after one day in their lives that would change the course of world history.

"Greater love hath no man than this. That a man lay down his life for his friends. American honors all the liberators who fought in the noblest of causes. And America would do it again for our friends. May God Bless You."

Saturday, June 5, 2004

OTTAWA DAILY TIMES: The Price of Freedom

COLEVILLE SUR MER, FRANCE -- The freshly cut lawns of the Normandy American Military Cemetery near Omaha Beach hold the remains of 9,387 American servicemembers who died liberating Europe. Their remains are identified by white crosses, Stars of David, and Latin crosses. Their graves span 173 acres officially recognized as American soil.

But before there were markers or monuments here, there were men at war -- 150,000 of them, most from England, France, Canada, Australia and the United States, who formed the core of the forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944. One of 18 died trying to breach Adolf Hitler's Fortress Europa in those early stages of the first great battle of the last great war.

No guarantee of success, no easy way off the hundreds of Higgins boats that carried them from the ships to the beach, no certainty as to the number of German troops waiting for them on the beaches of France could stop the brave men of the Allied Forces who would embark on Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's "Great Crusade" and carry out the largest invasion in the history of warfare.
Sixty years later, beaches Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold, and Sword are once again full of men and military units who are no strangers to these foreign shores.
"I come back here because I want to remember my friends," says Robert Murphy, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division who made his second combat jump into Normandy on June 6. After fighting in Africa and Italy, the bloodletting continued for Murphy in the small French town of St. Mare Eglese. His pilgrimage back to this battlefield is not his first. During the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Murphy again parachuted into Normandy as part of the memorial services then.
"So many men were killed here. So for me, it's a matter of showing respect and remembering the value of freedom."
The value of freedom is priceless to many in the crowds of French that have gathered here in Normandy to pay their respects.
Now remembered for their strong anti-war stance against the U.S. action in Iraq, all seems to have been forgotten and forgiven this week in these small Norman towns in France.
"Here they're special," says Murphy. "The little kids say 'Merci boku.' They thank you because their mother told them 'These are the men that liberated us and gave us our freedom,' " Murphy points to his chest and the medal he wears bearing his air assault wings with three stars symbolizing his three combat jumps and his three purple hearts. "These men right here."
Walking along the street in St. Mare Eglese, current 82nd Airborne Division soldiers in uniform are stopped by the townspeople, where they're offered a beer from the men or a kiss from the women.
"We're very grateful to your granddaddy," says one older Norman man sitting on a park bench with his dog. "We are very thankful to him for giving us our freedom from the Nazis."
That freedom came at a cost. From Normandy, the Allies would break through the German lines, push the Nazis back across the Rhine River, and forced them to surrender less than a year later.
At the end of the war, almost half a million U.S. service members were lost in the line of duty. Hundreds of thousands more were injured.
Veterans like Robert Murphy are those that NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw hailed as "the Greatest Generation." They are the heroes remembered this week in Normandy. The current soldiers honor their sacrifice. The French are grateful for their freedom. And the rest of us pay humble respect to a sacrifice that cannot be measured in currency or commitment.

OTTAWA DAILY TIMES: Tom Brokaw Continues Crusade for "Greatest Generation"

COLEVILLE SUR MER, FRANCE -- He's the face of countless documentaries and the NBC Nightly News, but Tom Brokaw's journalistic scope goes further than the television set.

"The 40th Anniversary of D-Day, I began to walk the beaches with members of the Big Red One who survived that day," Brokaw tells me on the set of the Nightly News -- on location at the American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France. "One went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. The other one lost both his legs in the war. They were so humble and they were so courageous... that was really the beginning with what I thought we owed this great generation."

That meeting with veterans in Normandy 20 years ago would translate into three different books, the most popular being the New York Times Bestseller "The Greatest Generation." He also drew some of the inspiration for the project from his own family.

"My first memories of life really are of the war," he says in a deep baritone voice that millions of Americans tune into each night. "We moved to an Army base. My father was drafted, but was sent back because he made the base run. Everybody around me was in uniform... going to the war, coming from the war."

The 60th anniversary commemorations for Brokaw began at the World War II Memorial Dedication in Washington, D.C., May 31. They continue with the 60th anniversary of D-Day commemorations throughout France. Each occasion is another opportunity for Brokaw to observe the two common traits among most of the veterans he talks to... humility and humbleness.

"They had difficult lives before the war," Brokaw explains, referencing the Great Depression.

"That really hammered this country in so many ways. They had to do without. They had to quit school to go to work.

And then they went through the war, and saw all that was sacrificed around them... their best friends who didn't make it back. When they came back from all that -- the depression and the war -- they were determined to put it behind them, and to work for their families, their communities, and their country."

When he steps down from the NBC Nightly News anchor desk after the 2004 Presidential election in November, Brokaw says he will still work on projects for NBC, many of which will focus on his "Greatest Generation."

"This is a fixed part of my life. I'm probably not going to write another book about World War II -- I've already wrote three of them now -- but I'm always amazed... every time I think I've heard all the stories, I hear four or five more good ones."

With World War II veterans passing on at a rate of about 1,000 per day, time is of the essence for Brokaw and other historians throughout the world to ensure that the stories of the "Greatest Generation" are recorded forever.