Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg and other veterans of the nation's longest war were at Normandy Friday in tribute to those who fought through the "Longest Day."
On the chalk bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, near the white headstones of more than 9,000 American war dead, the oldest and newest generations of warriors mingled in the crowd of more than 14,000 who gathered to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France.
"We are truly humbled by your presence here," President Obama told the estimated 250 survivors of D-Day in the audience. "I want each of you to know that your legacy is in good hands" with the all-volunteer military that went to Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said.
"This generation -- this 9/11 generation of service members -- they, too, felt some tug. They answered some call," Obama said.
Obama singled out the 30-year-old Remsburg, who was in a detail that escorted Obama on a tour of the Normandy battlefield for the 65th D-Day anniversary.
Only months later, Remsburg suffered traumatic brain injury and partial paralysis from a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan while on his 10th tour in a combat zone.
Remburg's appearance earlier this year at Obama's State of the Union address drew a standing ovation. The applause grew louder as Remsburg struggled to his feet to salute.
In remarks that weren't in his prepared text, Obama also recalled the service of his grandfather from Kansas, the late Stanley Dunham, who was with Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army.
"I don't think there's a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I'd be more happy to have him here, than this day," said Obama, who appeared to struggle with his emotions.
"This was democracy's beachhead," Obama said of the coast of France where 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops came ashore on June 6, 1944. "And our victory in that war decided not just a century, but shaped the security and well-being of all posterity."
"We tell this story to bear what witness we can to what happened when the boys from America reached Omaha Beach," Obama said.
"By daybreak, blood soaked the water, bombs broke the sky. Thousands of paratroopers had dropped into the wrong landing sites. Thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand. 'Hell's Beach' had earned its name," Obama said.
"Whenever the world makes you cynical, stop and think of these men. Whenever you lose hope, stop and think of these men," Obama said.
Obama spoke of several D-Day vets in the audience, and their modern-day counterparts now serving in the same Army units.
"Think of Wilson Colwell, who was told he couldn't pilot a plane without a high school degree, so he decided to jump out of a plane instead," Obama said. "And he did, here on D-Day, with the 101st Airborne when he was just 16 years old."
Obama also pointed out Army Spec. Jannise Rodriguez, who recently was named the Air Assault Soldier of the Year for the 101st.
To Kenneth "Rock" Merritt, who jumped with the 82nd Airborne on D-Day, Obama introduced Staff Sgt. Melvin Cedillo-Martin, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and now is with the 82nd.
The 91-year-old Merritt later recalled the harrowing flight into France in the wee hours of D-Day.
"Oh hell, I was standing in that plane, 2:30 in the morning, and it was rocking people sick, bullets flying everywhere, and I prayed to God to live 'til daylight," Merritt told Reuters.
"Some guy said, 'Rock, what do you want to live to daylight for?' I said, 'I want to see who's trying to kill me.'"
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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