Biden Links Fight for Ukraine With Allied Effort on D-Day

NORMANDY — President Biden observed the 80th anniversary of D-Day on the beaches of Normandy on Thursday by asserting that the allied effort to stand up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a direct extension of the battle for freedom that raged across Europe during World War II.

Addressing 180 surviving veterans of the Normandy operation and thousands of other guests, Mr. Biden said that the world must defeat another “tyrant bent on domination” and meet “the test of ages” to defend Ukraine — just as the heroes who stormed the beaches and dropped behind enemy lines did eight decades ago.

“Isolation was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today,” Mr. Biden said, with World War II veterans seated in wheelchairs behind him. “We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago; they never fade. Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change borders by force — these are perennial. The struggle between dictatorship and freedom is unending.”

In an energetic address, Mr. Biden declared that “NATO is more united than ever” and insisted that the alliance would stand by Ukraine in its own hour of need just as the United States had stood by Europe against the Nazis.

“Make no mistake,” Mr. Biden said. “We will not bow down.”

The president spoke just steps from where 9,388 members of the American military are buried, most of whom participated in the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach. Their graves are marked with rows of stark white marble crosses or Stars of David, which gleamed under the bright sunlight and blue skies.

Mr. Biden, 81, who was a toddler when American, British and Canadian troops poured onto the beaches here on June 6, 1944, will almost certainly be the last U.S. president to speak at a Normandy remembrance who was alive at the time Allied forces began to push Adolf Hitler out of Europe.

Now, eight decades later, Mr. Biden is leading a coalition of European and other nations in a very different war on the continent, but for a very similar principle — pushing back against the attempted seizure of a neighboring country, in this case Ukraine, by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

In his remarks on Thursday at the Normandy American Cemetery, the president drew a direct line between the two, connected by the defense of a rules-based international order.

The men who fought in Normandy were heroes, he said, who accepted an “audacious mission” while knowing the “the probability of dying was real.”

“They knew beyond any doubt there are things that are worth fighting and dying for,” Mr. Biden said. “Freedom is worth it. Democracy is worth it. America is worth it. The world is worth it. Then, now and always.”

Mr. Biden’s appearance at the cemetery was the first public event of a five-day visit to France, which will include a second speech on Friday at Pointe du Hoc and a state dinner hosted by President Emmanuel Macron of France in Paris on Saturday. Mr. Biden will return to Europe a few days later for a meeting of the leaders of the Group of 7 nations in Italy.

Before Mr. Biden’s address, the audience delivered a nearly hourlong series of standing ovations as a procession of D-Day veterans arrived. Most of the men, now in their late 90s or over 100 years old, were rolled up a blue-carpeted ramp in wheelchairs. A few managed to walk with canes or even unassisted, drawing extra applause.

With medals on their chests, baseball caps identifying their service on their heads and in a few instances tears in their eyes, the veterans saluted, waved, took selfies and flashed thumbs-ups. One snapped pictures with a windup disposable camera. A few women veterans who served in supporting roles at the time were among the honored guests.

In the audience were Tom Hanks, the actor, and Steven Spielberg, the director, who together made the film “Saving Private Ryan” and have dedicated themselves to documenting the lives and service of the World War II generation. Other guests included senators, members of Congress and relatives of those who fought in the conflict.

Before his speech, Mr. Biden met with 41 veterans of the Normandy campaign — including 33 who participated in D-Day itself. In a small glass-backed gazebo overlooking Omaha Beach, Mr. Biden leaned down to shake the hands of those in wheelchairs and offered challenge coins that he had made up specially for this 80th anniversary commemoration.

“The greatest generation ever, man,” he told one 102-year-old veteran.

“You saved the world,” he told another.

Some of the veterans told Mr. Biden they were honored to meet him. One had advice for the president: “Don’t get old,” the veteran said, as he settled back in his wheelchair.

Mr. Biden was accompanied by the first lady, Jill Biden, who flew separately to France to join him after attending the trial of their son Hunter Biden in Wilmington, Del., on federal gun charges. Wearing his aviator sunglasses, the president held Dr. Biden’s hand as they marched up a blue carpet to the ceremony with the Macrons while military aircraft streaked overhead.

Addressing the crowd first, Mr. Macron hailed what he called “a blood tie, shed for liberty” between the United States and France. He turned to directly address some of the veterans onstage individually and by name, thanking them for coming to France’s rescue 80 years earlier.

“You came here to free the continent,” he said, “and you came here with the strength that allows you to resist 171 days of fighting the enemy.” He added in English: “You are back here today, at home, if I may say.”

As cinematic music played in the background, Mr. Macron then made 11 of the veterans knights of the Legion of Honor, among France’s highest awards. While some struggled to lift themselves from their wheelchairs to stand, the veterans beamed with pride as Mr. Macron pinned the medals to their jackets and gave each a kiss on both cheeks.

American officials said the somber backdrop of Normandy — where the Allies helped turn the tide in Europe after nearly five years of war — was meant to underscore the stakes for Europe and the world if the United States and its fellow nations lose their resolve and let Mr. Putin win.

Mr. Biden has said that the months of congressional refusal to approve funding for Ukraine set back the war effort there, giving Russian forces the opportunity to push forward along battle lines in the north and east of the country.

On Friday, Mr. Biden will return to Normandy to deliver another speech, this time at Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers scaled huge cliffs in an effort to secure critical military positions held by the Germans.

Officials said that the president would use that backdrop to make a broader point about the dangers of isolationism and the need to protect and nurture democracy. John F. Kirby, a retired Navy admiral and the White House national security spokesman, said the speech would be different from previous addresses by Mr. Biden on the topic of protecting democracy.

“You can point to real lives that were impacted at Pointe du Hoc,” he said. “You can point to real blood that was spilled in pursuit of that loftier goal. And you can tell stories about real men who climbed real cliffs and faced real bullets and real danger in the pursuit of something a whole hell of a lot bigger than themselves.”

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *