COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — President Donald Trump, who has at times questioned the value of NATO and other institutions that emerged from World War II, paid tribute on the 75th anniversary of D-Day to the “cherished alliance” forged in battle by the U.S. and partner nations. To aging warriors gathered on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, he said, “Our debt to you is everlasting.”
Under calm blue skies, Trump underscored the magnitude of the tumultuous June day in 1945:
“Those who fought here won a future for our nation. They won the survival of our civilization, and they showed us the way to love, cherish and defend our way of life for many centuries to come.”
The president stopped mid-speech to gingerly embrace Russell Pickett, a 94-year-old Tennessee man who was wounded in the first wave that came ashore , telling him, “Private Pickett, you honor us all with your presence.”
Anniversary tributes aside, questions about Trump’s commitment to Western alliances have been a theme throughout his presidency and trailed him on his visit to Europe. During his stop in England earlier in the week, Queen Elizabeth II used a dinner toast to emphasize the importance of international institutions created by Britain, the United States and other allies after World War II, a subtle rebuttal.
In Thursday’s ceremony at Normandy American Cemetery , many national leaders stressed the alliances that led to D-Day. Trump focused on the valor of the men who stormed the beaches, but he also sought to reassure allies who have been rattled by his “America first” mindset.
“To all of our friends and partners — our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable,” the president declared.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who hopes to win the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in 2020, voiced his doubts back in the U.S., saying Trump was “destroying” NATO.
“If he gets re-elected, watch: NATO will be disintegrated,” Biden said at a fundraiser in Atlanta.
Trump, in France, made his own harsh detour into domestic politics in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham taped at the cemetery just before the ceremony. The president derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “Nervous Nancy” and a “disaster” and said special counsel Robert Mueller, himself a Vietnam War hero, had made “a fool out of himself” with his investigation of the president. Pelosi was among the U.S. lawmakers attending the D-Day observances.
In an interview on MSNBC, Pelosi declined to criticize Trump and said she hoped he would “convey a renewed spirit of collaboration” with allies.
In his speech, Trump praised allies for their contributions at Normandy, saying “the full violence of Nazi fury was no match for the full grandeur of British pride.” He also credited the Canadians and the French, along with “the fighting Poles, the tough Norwegians and the intrepid Aussies.”
Trump described some 130,000 service members who took part in the D-Day landing as the “citizens of free and independent nations, united by their duty to their compatriots and to millions yet unborn.”
The president paid particular attention to the few surviving veterans from that day who were likely to be attending their final remembrance of arguably the world’s most famous battle. He told their personal stories of heroism and described D-Day participants as “among the very greatest Americans who will ever live.”
What has been described as America’s “greatest generation” has been no less extraordinary in peace, Trump said, crediting them for building a “national culture that inspired the entire world.”
French President Emmanuel Macron , for his part, told American veterans that “France doesn’t forget” what they sacrificed for his country’s liberation from Germany’s Nazis.
After the program and a gun salute, Trump, Macron and their wives walked to an overlook above Omaha Beach, the scene of the bloodiest fighting. They stood silently as a bugler played “Taps.” The couples surveyed a map of the invasion and watched as fighter jets and other aircraft, including some that streaked the sky with red, white and blue smoke, flew overhead. At the cemetery, Melania Trump placed a bouquet of white flowers at the base of a cross-shaped headstone.
Trump and Macron then traveled separately to Caen for a meeting and lunch before Trump returned to his golf club in Ireland.
Trump reflected on the commemoration as he sat with Macron, saying he was struck by the high death toll as the initial waves of troops came ashore.
“It’s a lot of courage, and a lot of heartbreak, but an incredible victory,” Trump said.
The cemetery contains grave markers for more than 9,300 American servicemen. Trump noted that each marker had been adopted by a French family and that people come from all over France to “look after our boys.”
“Today America embraces the French people and thanks you for honoring our beloved war dead,” he said.
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report. Freking reported from London.
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