By Jim Kuhnhenn
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is the fourth sitting president to attend a D-Day anniversary observance in Normandy and the only president to visit the site of the allied invasion twice during his presidency for an anniversary commemoration. It wasn’t always a presidential tradition.
Ronald Reagan was the first, delivering an evocative and emotional remembrance on the 40th anniversary in 1984. Joining him were surviving members of an Army Rangers team that had scaled cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to silence German guns protecting the Normandy beaches.
“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”
Before him, presidents acknowledged the D-Day invasion with words or statements, but none made a pilgrimage to the site, not even Dwight Eisenhower, who had been the supreme allied commander who ordered the invasion.
Here is a sampling of how presidents observed the key D-Day anniversaries.
DWIGHT EISENHOWER, 10th anniversary, 1954
Issued a statement that reflected the Cold War chasm of the day: “We see peoples, once bitter enemies, burying their antagonisms and joining together to meet the problems of the postwar world. If all those nations which were members of the Grand Alliance have not maintained in time of peace the spirit of that wartime union, if some of the peoples who were our comrades-in-arms have been kept apart from us, that is cause for profound regret, but not for despair.”
Eisenhower did go to Normandy after his presidency, for the 20th anniversary observance.
LYNDON JOHNSON, 20th anniversary, 1964
Johnson, in Washington pushing for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, delivered remarks to members of a D-Day delegation, headed by Gen. Omar Bradley: “Your country remembers and will never forget, the resolve born on that D-Day, that, so long as we are able, and other men are willing to stand together, we shall not permit the light of freedom to be extinguished on any continent again. ... So let all the world know that when this nation has stood 2,000 years we shall not have forgotten the lands where our sons lie buried, nor the cause for which our sons died. Where we have commitments to the cause of freedom, we shall honor them — today, tomorrow and always.”