Biden joins fight for Ukraine with allied effort on D-Day

NORMANDY — President Biden marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day on the beaches of Normandy on Thursday, saying the allied effort to resist Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a direct extension of the battle for freedom that has raged in all of Europe during World War II.

Addressing 180 surviving Normandy veterans and thousands of other guests, Biden said the world must defeat another “tyrant bent on domination” and stand “the test of time” to defend Ukraine, just like the heroes who they stormed the beaches and dropped behind enemy lines eight decades ago.

“Isolation wasn't the answer 80 years ago and it's not the answer today,” Biden said, with World War II veterans sitting in wheelchairs behind him. “We know the dark forces these heroes fought against 80 years ago; they never fade away. Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change boundaries by force: these are perennial things. The struggle between dictatorship and freedom is endless.”

In a forceful speech, Biden declared that “NATO is more united than ever” and insisted that the alliance would stand by Ukraine in its time of need, just as the United States had stood by Europe against the Nazis.

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

The president spoke just steps away from the burial site of 9,388 U.S. service members, most of whom participated in the Allied invasion of Omaha Beach. Their graves are marked by rows of white marble crosses or Stars of David, which shone under the sunlight and blue skies.

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

Now, eighty years later, Biden is leading a coalition of European and other nations in a very different war on the continent, but for a very similar principle: repelling an attempted seizure of a neighboring country, in this case l 'Ukraine. by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

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

The men who fought in Normandy were heroes, he said, who accepted a “daring mission” despite knowing that “the likelihood of dying was real.”

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

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 French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday. Mr Biden will return to Europe a few days later for a meeting of Group of 7 leaders in Italy.

Before Biden's speech, the audience gave a nearly hour-long series of standing ovations as a procession of D-Day veterans arrived. Most of the men, now in their 90s or more than 100, were rolled up a blue-carpeted ramp in wheelchairs. Some managed to walk with canes or even without assistance, prompting further applause.

With medals on their chests, baseball caps identifying their service on their heads and in some cases with tears in their eyes, the veterans saluted, waved, took selfies and showed thumbs up. One took photos with a wind-up disposable camera. Among the guests of honor were some female veterans who held supporting roles at the time.

In the audience were Tom Hanks, the actor, and Steven Spielberg, the director, who together made the film “Saving Private Ryan” and dedicated themselves to documenting the life 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, Biden met with 41 campaign veterans in Normandy, including 33 who participated in D-Day itself. In a small glass-backed gazebo overlooking Omaha Beach, Mr. Biden bent down to shake hands with wheelchair users and offered challenge coins that he had created especially for this 80th anniversary commemoration.

“Greatest generation ever, man,” he told a 102-year-old veteran.

“You saved the world,” he told another.

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

Mr. Biden was accompanied by the first lady, Jill Biden, who flew separately to France to join him after attending her son Hunter Biden's trial in Wilmington, Del., on federal firearms charges. Wearing his aviator sunglasses, the president held Dr. Biden's hand as they marched across a blue carpet to the ceremony with the Macrons as military planes whizzed overhead.

Addressing the crowd first, Macron hailed what he called “a bond of blood, shed for freedom” between the United States and France. He directly addressed some of the veterans on stage, individually and by name, thanking them for coming to France's rescue 80 years earlier.

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

As cinematic music played in the background, Macron named 11 veterans knights of the Legion of Honour, one of France's highest honours. While some struggled to get up from their wheelchairs to stand, the veterans beamed with pride as Macron pinned medals to their jackets and gave each a kiss on both cheeks.

American officials said the grim backdrop of Normandy – where the Allies helped turn the tide in Europe after nearly five years of war – was intended to underline what was at stake for Europe and the world if the United States and his comrades lost their resolve and let Putin's Mr. Victory.

Biden said that Congress' months of refusal to approve funding for Ukraine had delayed the country's war effort, giving Russian forces an opportunity to advance along battle lines in the country's north and east.

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

Officials said the president will use this context to make a broader point about the dangers of isolationism and the need to protect and cultivate democracy. John F. Kirby, a retired Navy admiral and White House national security spokesman, said the speech would be different from Biden's previous speeches on the topic of protecting democracy.

“You can point to real lives that were affected at Pointe du Hoc,” he said. “You can point to the real blood shed in pursuit of that higher goal. And you can tell stories of real men who climbed real cliffs and faced real bullets and real dangers in search of something much bigger than themselves.

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