On Sunday, America will mark the 77th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of young men from cities and towns across the United States, allied with freedom-loving peoples from around the world, waded ashore amid a hail of gunfire to liberate Europe from oppression. Two years ago, President Trump delivered one of the most powerful and moving tributes ever to these extraordinary heroes. His words are worth remembering and reflecting upon as America pauses this Sunday to remember the sacrifice of those epic men.
Of all the grand settings that have shaped the American story, there is perhaps no place outside the United States that holds such significance in the collective memory of Americans as the sandy beaches and rocky cliffs at Normandy where so many brave warriors fought and died to free Europe from Nazi rule.
Time and again, U.S. leaders have returned to Normandy to commemorate the battle and to reflect on the bonds that were forged in the greatest armed conflict the world has ever known. The site has been an occasion for soaring and exceptional presidential eloquence. President Ronald Reagan set the standard for D-Day speeches on the 40th anniversary in 1984.
First, he addressed 62 veterans of the American 75th Ranger Regiment. Four decades before, they had scaled the gray cliffs of Pointe du Hoc to take out Nazi artillery located on top. History remembers Reagan’s famous words that day at the top of the dramatic bluff. “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan said, gesturing toward the men as he stood before a monument to their valor against the backdrop of a gray sky and sea. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Reagan also spoke that day at a separate ceremony on Omaha beach, which more than 2,400 Americans had died to secure. In perhaps even more moving and exquisite remarks, he told the story of Private Robert Zanatta, who had been among the first to land at Omaha: “When men like Private Zanatta and all our allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy 40 years ago, they came not as conquerors, but as liberators. When these troops swept across the French countryside and into the forests of Belgium and Luxembourg, they came not to take but to return what had been wrongly seized.”
Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama gave fine, although far less memorable, remarks when the occasion called on later anniversaries over the past 30 years. But arguably, no president has succeeded in honoring the legacy of the D-Day heroes in a single speech as completely and stirringly as President Trump’s speech on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in 2019.
Standing on what he called “freedom’s alter,” President Trump paid tribute to more than 170 veterans of the Second World War who joined him for the commemoration. “You are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live,” he told them. “You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic.”
He went on to describe the bravery of those who fought that day. “The GIs who boarded the landing craft that morning knew that they carried on their shoulders not just the pack of a soldier, but the fate of the world,” he said.
Trump also noted profound contributions of America’s allies: the “nobility and fortitude” of the British, the “robust sense of honor and loyalty” of the Canadians, the “fighting Poles, the tough Norwegians, and the intrepid Aussies,” alongside the French commandos.
“Finally,” he said, “there were the Americans.” The GI’s “ran through the fires of hell moved by a force no weapon could destroy: the fierce patriotism of a free, proud, and sovereign people.”
Trump then proceeded to tell the personal stories of several of those heroes present in some of the most riveting and tear-jerking scenes in the history of presidential oratory. Readers must read or watch the speech for themselves. Those moments are truly unforgettable.
Trump concluded: “To the men who sit behind me, and to the boys who rest in the field before me: your example will never, ever grow old. Your legend will never tire. Your spirit — brave, unyielding, and true — will never die. The blood that they spilled, the tears that they shed, the lives that they gave, the sacrifice that they made did not just win a battle. It did not just win a war. 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.”
Even the media couldn’t help but commend the President for what was obviously a stunning performance. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough called it “the most powerful speech that [Trump has] given as President of the United States.” A CNN story dubbed it “perhaps [Trump’s] best speech ever” and went on to say that “Trump met the moment, perfectly, with words that summoned poetry from their simplicity.” NBC’s Lester Holt said the speech was “very touching and seemed to come from deep in his heart.” Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the most vociferous critic of President Trump, called the speech “lovely.”
President Trump’s words will forever stand as a tribute to the heroes who served on D-Day.
As his remarks showed, even more than seven decades later, what those brave men accomplished is enough to cause even the most partisan among us to pause and remember the incredible history of service and sacrifice that should unite us all as Americans.
As our nation once again marks this solemn anniversary, each citizen would do well to remember the true meaning of what those patriots did. As President Trump put it: “Seven decades ago, the warriors of D-Day fought a sinister enemy who spoke of a thousand-year empire. In defeating that evil, they left a legacy that will last not only for a thousand years but for all time — for as long as the soul knows of duty and honor, for as long as freedom keeps its hold on the human heart.”