70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings
Mr President of the United States of America, cher Barack Obama,
Veteran soldiers of the Normandy Landings,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, 6 June, we’re commemorating a memorable date in our history, when our two peoples united in the same battle: the battle for freedom. We’re gathered beside a beach, the one we can see from Colleville cemetery – a beautiful, calm, peaceful beach, but on 6 June 1944 it was a terrifying battlefield, and that’s what we wanted to remember here, 70 years later.
In history there are always ordeals – nothing goes according to plan – and early that morning, everything got off to a bad start. On Omaha Beach, the air force’s bombs had inadvertently landed behind the German defences, the artillery had missed its target and the tanks that were to support the infantry had sunk. So the soldiers in the first waves of the assault found themselves alone, lightly armed and faced with mortars, heavy artillery and machine guns. Many were mutilated, blasted, massacred, while the survivors were pinned down on the sand amongst the dead and wounded, under deadly fire while the tide came in, red with blood.
The Nazis were sure of themselves. They had built a wall, the Atlantic Wall. Nothing could reach them. They hadn’t reckoned with the fact that in democracies, a great ideal gives great courage, and that, out of the blue, men are capable of giving their lives to save other lives, on a continent which is the continent of freedom. As General Omar Bradley said, every man who set foot on Omaha Beach on 6 June 1944 was a hero. So these young soldiers on the beach regrouped with a few officers, with no orders and no plan, and ran towards the enemy lines armed solely with their courage. This final, unexpected, audacious, unstoppable assault was victorious. By early afternoon, Omaha Beach had been taken and the Landings were a complete success.
In English as in French, the names Omaha, Utah and Pointe du Hoc evoke suffering and glory, desolation and pride, cruelty and deliverance. More than 20,000 Americans gave their lives here in Normandy: 20,838, because I don’t want to forget any of them. They were your relatives, your brothers and your friends. They were our liberators.
France will never forget what it owes to them and what it owes to the United States. It will never forget the solidarity between our two nations, the solidarity that prevailed during the two great tragedies of the last century and which is based on a shared ideal: the dream, the passion of freedom.
America has always remembered France’s contribution to its great revolution. So in 1917, when France’s independence was under attack, America was there to protect it. And in 1944, when France was occupied, America was there to free it. I know what this cost the people of America, our great sister country: so many sacrifices, so many losses and so much misfortune. Eleven thousand American soldiers are honoured here in Colleville, this little Normandy village which, one day in June 1944, was the most important site in the history of the Second World War, and which today is a place of remembrance uniting our two countries.
They are the martyrs of Bloody Omaha and the heroes of the Pointe du Hoc. They are the parachutists of Sainte-Mère-Église and the infantry of the Battle of the Hedgerows. They are all those who died to free Europe, and I want to mention a few of those heroes’ names.
Here lie together the Reeds, father and son, both killed in July 1944, one in Italy and the other in Normandy. Here lie all these brothers cut down by war, 66 of them buried two by two, side by side.
Amongst all these white crosses we can see in the distance, three have a gold star, [signifying] the highest military honour in the United States. One is for Lieutenant Jimmie Monteith, one of the first to land at Omaha. All day he fought on the beach, without cover, before falling under enemy fire without ever seeing the victory. Another is for Sergeant Frank Peregory, who single-handedly captured an enemy defence post defended by 43 Germans on 8 June at Grandcamp-Maisy.
He died fighting in the Bocage four days later.
And one is for General Theodore Roosevelt Junior, victor of Utah Beach and son of the 26th President of the United States. He died aged 56 at Sainte-Mère-Église on 12 July 1944. He is buried alongside his brother, Quentin, shot out of the sky over Champagne on 14 July 1918, during the First World War. Their crosses stand side by side, testifying to the unbroken ties between our two peoples, from one generation to the next.
So, Mr President, I will reiterate the oath of my predecessors here: we will never forget, we will never forget the American soldiers’ sacrifice.
Mr President, we are the children and grandchildren of that generation. We are their heirs. I was born in Normandy, in Rouen, a city largely destroyed during the battle. And you, Mr President, were born in Hawaii, the state of the USA that was hit hardest by the war. Our parents, our grandparents told us the story of these battles and ordeals, this pain and this suffering.
Our parents, our grandparents raised us with the idea that for everything to change, nothing should be forgotten. From this memory, from this shared memory, our nations have forged a hope which is also a duty. It is that of peace, it’s the image Normandy is projecting today – Normandy, which is bringing the whole world together, Normandy, where nations fought and are today reunited to commemorate this day.
Mr President, for 70 years, the United States, despite adversity, crises and ordeals, has always remained a friend of France. This is the friendship of two countries which for two centuries have advanced side by side on the path of progress. It’s the friendship of two countries which affirm the strength of human rights in the face of hatred and tyranny. Two countries which combat oppression and obscurantism, which want to make the world fairer, more democratic and more peaceful.
Mr President, the French people recognize an indefatigable energy in America, an ability to innovate, create, invent and carry the dream of success. But what they admire the most in the American people – because they themselves are its most ardent champions – is their love of freedom. And my compatriots know that, when the critical moment comes, when our principles are in danger, France and the United States always come together, as in that terrible summer of 1944 on the beaches of Normandy and on the beaches of Provence.
Back then it was about fighting Nazi barbarity. Today, today still, our two countries are united to address other threats: global warming, growing inequality, underdevelopment, extreme poverty and hunger. And yes, today we’re still united in the face of other perils we thought had disappeared forever: fundamentalism, racism, extremism and terrorism.
This is why this ceremony today takes on a special dimension. The silence of this sacred place expresses the message of the soldiers who lie here better than any speech. They died so that we might live in freedom. Let us be worthy of the past that has brought us together, in order to continue making history together.
Long live America, long live France and long live the memory of those who died here for our freedom./.