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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

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

French military personnel salute as President Joe Biden and President Emmanuel Macron of France arrive for a ceremony on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, on Thursday, June 6, 2024. At Pointe du Hoc in Normandy on Friday, President Biden plans to follow one of former President Ronald Reagan’s most iconic speeches with his own testimonial to democracy and the need to resist isolationism. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker

President Joe Biden observed the 80th anniversary of D-Day on the beaches of Normandy on Thursday by asserting that the allied effort to stand up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a direct extension of the battle for freedom that raged across Europe during World War II.

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

“Isolation was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today,” Biden said, with World War II veterans seated in wheelchairs behind him. “We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago. They never fade. Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change borders by force — these are perennial. The struggle between dictatorship and freedom is unending.”

In an energetic address, Biden declared that “NATO is more united than ever” and insisted that the alliance would stand by Ukraine in its own hour of need just as the United States had stood by Europe against the Nazis.

“We will not walk away,” Biden said. “Because if we do, Ukraine will be subjugated and it will not end there.”

The president spoke just steps from where 9,388 members of the U.S. military are buried, most of whom participated in the Allied invasion at Omaha Beach. Their graves are marked with rows of stark white marble crosses or Stars of David, which gleamed under the bright sunlight and blue skies.

Biden, 81, who was a toddler when American, British and Canadian troops poured onto the beaches here on June 6, 1944, will almost certainly be the last U.S. president to speak at a Normandy remembrance who was alive at the time Allied forces began to push Adolf Hitler out of Europe.

Now, eight decades 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 — pushing back against the attempted seizure of a neighboring country, in this case Ukraine, by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

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

“The men who fought here became heroes not because they were the strongest, the toughest or the fiercest — although they were,” Biden said, “but because they were given an audacious mission, knowing — every one of them knew — the probability of dying was real.”

“They knew beyond any doubt there are things that are worth fighting and dying for,” Biden said. “Freedom is worth it. Democracy is 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.

Before Biden’s address, the audience delivered a nearly hourlong series of standing ovations as a procession of D-Day veterans arrived. Most of the men, now in their late 90s or over 100 years old, were rolled up a blue-carpeted ramp in wheelchairs. A few managed to walk with canes or even unassisted, drawing extra applause.

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