WASHINGTON, June 6 (UPI) -- Sixty years after American and Allied troops stormed ashore on France's Normandy beaches to repel Nazi Germany, French President Jacques Chirac reiterated his country's undying gratitude to the United States.
"France will never forget," Chirac told President George W. Bush in a speech delivered at the American war cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer during moving D-Day commemoration ceremonies in which both presidents took part, along with 15 other heads of state.
More than 9,000 fallen American solders are buried at Colleville amid a gentle setting of immaculately tended lawns with little white crosses punctuated every so often by a Star of David baring the name, rank, unit, dates of birth and death and the soldier's home state. Many of the fallen heroes were young men in their late teens and early 20s. A number of tombs carry the inscription, "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God."
The impressive cemetery serves as a reminder of the madness that is war. It overlooks the sands of Omaha Beach, one of the five Allied-designated landing beaches whose names are now part of history and forever etched in our collective memories. The other American beach was dubbed Utah.
Gold and Sword where the British beaches, and Juno was where Canadians forces -- the third largest contingent taking part in the invasion of Fortress Europe -- were put ashore.
Recalling the immeasurable debt that France owes the United States, Chirac said, "France will never forget that 6th of June, 1944, the day hope was reborn and rekindled. She will never forget those men who made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate our soil, our native land, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity and its murderous folly."
In what some analysts say is perceived as a sign of thawing in Franco-American relations -- relations that were severely strained by France's opposition to the war in Iraq last year -- Chirac stressed that France will never forget "its debt to America," which he called, France's "everlasting friend."
Chirac said he spoke for every French man and woman in expressing France's eternal gratitude and unparalleled debt that our democracies owe them.
"I salute their courage, that flight of the human soul, which, by their refusal of enslavement, altered and, indeed, reshaped the course of history, and so conferred a new stature on mankind, upon nations and peoples."
Addressing President Bush, Chirac said that this "day of remembrance begins here at Colleville-sur-Mer, in this cemetery, where, for all time, America honors its sons who died so young in the name of freedom.
"They are now our sons also," said Chirac, looking somber.
"And to the entire American nation, sharing this solemn moment with us, to all those men and women who paid the ultimate price of those heroic days, the message of France is, indeed, a message of friendship and brotherhood, a message of thanks, of appreciation, and gratitude."
Chirac reminded President Bush that for over 200 years the same humanist values have shaped the destinies of France and America. "Our two nations have never ceased to share common love of liberty and law, of justice and democracy," he said.
Drawing on lessons of history, Chirac told his American guest that "from the plains of Yorktown to the beaches of Normandy, in the suffering of those global conflicts that have rent the past century, our two countries, our two peoples have stood shoulder to shoulder in the brotherhood of blood spilled, in defense of a certain ideal of mankind, of a certain vision of the world -- the vision that lies at the heart of the United Nations Charter."
The French president reminded Bush that having experienced "the long ordeal of war and occupation, France knows full-well just how much it owes to the United States of America."
"America is our eternal ally," said Chirac. An alliance that stood all the stronger today, having been forged "in those terrible hours."
Touching upon current world affairs, Chirac said that "in America's time of trial, when barbarity wreaks death, havoc and destruction in America and elsewhere in the world, as in the tragedy of September the 11th, 2001, a date burned forever into our memories and hearts, France stands side by side every man and woman in America.
"Their grief is our grief," affirmed the French President.
However, Chirac pointed out that "we have also a duty of vigilance, also a duty to fight ruthlessly all these upsurges and seedbeds of hatred that feed on ignorance on obscurantism and on intolerance."
Replying to his French host, President Bush said that "history reminds us that France was America's first friend in the world."
"In the trials and that sacrifice of war we became inseparable allies," Bush said.
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