Sunday, June 07, 2009

Yes, We Ca(e)n, in Normandy !

President Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama, the Prince of Wales, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper attend a memorial service June 6th, 2009 at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, west of France.

7.000 participants and VIPs seat facing the Memorial, in half-circle, composed of a colonnade and a large bronze statue of 7 meters in its center. It symbolizes the Spirit of American youth s' raising from the Flood.

France First Lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is greeted by Caen citizens in front of the Hôtel de la Préfecture de Normandie. -Private portraits collection-

On 6th June 1944, from dawn to dusk, the Allied liberation of Western Europe began with the D-Day landings that brought Allies troops on five beachheads in Normandy. The majority of troops who landed on the D-Day beaches were from the United Kingdom, Canada and the US. However, troops from many other countries participated in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, in all the different armed services: Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland. Following the invasion, the whole of northern France was liberated from the Nazis within three months. Caen and Normandy paid a heavy price for the bombing that accompanied this last chapters of World War II, in loosing over 21.000 souls.

"Operation Overlord", the most complex assault ever attempted, since the invasion of England by the Duke of Normandy William the Conqueror, has been memorialized in books and movies, including accounts of the "greatest generation" in popular films, like "The Longest Day" "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan," as well as in blowout 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations, local officials have feared that the exploits of the men might fade. To take Caen, the Allies bombed the city of Caen with terrific force, killing several thousand of French residents, the strongest price to re-gain liberty.

"Yes, We Caen!"
The US president and the First lady Barack and Michelle Obama and the First Couple of France Nicolas and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy walked the streets of CAEN, Normandy, where a good portion of the history of western civilization was formed more than 1,000 years ago. "Yes, We Caen!" is a common witted sentence from the Caennais citizens and, I hear, "a patented phrase of Alexia de St. John's, a young French woman originally from Martinique who has now lived in Paris for many years. St John's has allowed the city of Caen to use her phrase this year as a token of good will to the city as well as a show of her support for Obama's visit."

On the eve of France's participation in the European Parliament election, US President Obama joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Caen and gave a speech at the American War Cemetery at nearby Colleville-sur-Mer. (A French land concession to the USA after WWII)

"Sixty-five years ago, June 6th 1944, the liberating drama of D-Day shook Nazi occupied ravaged France. Surviving veterans were showing family members the paths their lives as soldiers took. On the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy to free Europe from the Nazis, President Barack Obama saluted the elderly veterans who once stormed the beaches and achieved an "improbable victory" in World War II."

Calls for cooperation instead of unilateralism, and diplomacy whenever it is possible, ran through the remarks at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial by Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

On the Normandie coastal area, at the Colleville-sur-Mer American cemetery, designed by Markley Stevenson, overlooking Omaha Beach, before the graves of 9,387 soldiers, President Obama told thousands of veterans and family members that "we live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true," and "it is rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity. But all know that this war was essential."

"The ideal of the United Nations was born from the struggle of the free peoples against Nazism," Sarkozy said in a serene and strong speech, adding that their collective duty "is to give life to that ideal." Noting that Obama's grandfather and a great uncle had served in World War II, president Sarkozy told the visiting president: "You are therefore twice over, by the office you hold and by the blood which flows through your veins, the symbol of the America that we love."

"Obama also spoke of the need to apply the lessons of the past to the future. As we face down the hardships and struggles of our time," he said, "and arrive at that hour for which we were born, we cannot help but draw strength from those moments in history when the best among us were somehow able to swallow their fears and secure a beachhead on an unforgiving shore." Moments later, canons fired a 21-gun salute, and the French Air Force flew 12 jets in three tight formations over the graves of 9,000 Americans whose lives are memorialized above the sands of Omaha Beach. A military band played Taps as four of the worlds leaders stood on in silence."

Normandy is a sweet bucolic region 220 kilometers north-west of Paris where, today, golden wheat fields brush the wind and rural families quietly parade. It is where, every weekend, the roads are lined with the cars of Parisians, who are making their way to country homes, Rouen, Caen, Mont-Saint-Michel, Giverny, Honfleur Deauville - Trouville, Cabourg, Pont-L'Eveque, Lisieux, not to mention a fair share of Americans, Canadians and British who have chosen to make Normandy their own home.

Quotes from Google news, Time, Miami Herald, Huffington, Epa, agencies, JL ©

To follow the Normandy Campaign from D-Day through the Liberation of Paris, access this interactive program and click here

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