COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France -- As rain dampened the graves and monuments of D-Day soldiers, President Bush said Monday "the day will never come when America forgets them," and summoned the heirs of the Normandy invasion to fight this generation's scourge: terrorism.
"We defend freedom against people who can't stand freedom," the president said while commemorating Memorial Day at Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,387 men and women are buried.
Rows of white crosses graced a gentle slope of lawn spilling down to the cliffs of Omaha Beach, 100 yards from where Bush spoke. It was the site of some of the worst fighting on June 6, 1944 -- a day that saw 135,000 men and 20,000 vehicles emerge from the English Channel in the first hour of fighting alone, as allied forces began the end of Nazi Germany.
"From a distance, surveying row after row of markers, we see the scale and heroism and sacrifice of the young," the commander in chief said while a huge American flag snapped in the wind above him.
Link between past, present
Linking the past to the present, Bush reminded his audience of soldiers, veterans and dignitaries of fallen U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan -- the first battle casualties in the war against terrorism.
Nothing can ease the grief of their family members, Bush said. "They can know, however, that the cause is just. And like other generations, these sacrifices have spared many others from tyranny and sorrow," he said.
French President Jacques Chirac, whose country was liberated by allied forces 58 years ago, nodded from the front row. Chirac was a late addition to the program. The White House did not include him in its initial plans, but he insisted on a role.
Earlier, the president's entourage of staff, security and more than a dozen vehicles arrived at the small town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise -- greeted by hundreds of residents who cheered, "Chirac! George Bush! Chirac! George Bush!"
The two presidents attended services at the town's Church of Notre Dame de la Paix.
Children waved tiny American and French flags.
The town was the first in France to be liberated after U.S. paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions landed in the town square. Fierce fighting broke out with German troops.
From Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Bush took a helicopter tour of Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and Pointe Du Hoc, where U.S. Rangers of the 2nd Ranger Battalion became lore. Like medieval soldiers attacking a besieged castle, the troops used grappling hooks and ladders to scale a 130-foot cliff and overtake a German position.
Bush spoke of them and other D-Day heroes in a speech that followed his long, solemn walk through rows of white crosses. Rain splashed his notes for the first half of his speech. By his closing, the clouds were backlit by a bright sun; the rain had ceased.
Bush, born two years and one month after D-Day, said: "All that come to a place like this feel the enormity of the loss."
Every slain soldier "had plans and hopes of his own and parted with them forever when he died. The day will come when no one is left who knew them, when no visitor to this cemetery can stand before a grave remembering a face and a voice," Bush said.
"The day will never come when America forgets them."
As a Navy ship cut through the channel behind him, the president said, "We will always remember what they did here and what they gave here for future humanity."