60,000 stand in silence as taps is played for the men who fell 50 years ago 'SO THAT FREEDOM MIGHT LIVE'

June 07, 1994|By Carl Schoettler and William Thompson | Carl Schoettler and William Thompson,Sun Staff Correspondents

UTAH BEACH, NORMANDY — In an photo caption on Page 1A in Tuesday's editions, th names of Joseph T. Dawson and Robert Slaughter, two D-Day veterans talking with President Clinton in France, were transposed.

* The Sun regrets the error.

UTAH BEACH, Normandy -- Taps was sounded yesterday for the men who died by the thousands to take the beaches of Normandy and liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny half a century ago.

And a U.S. president who hadn't been born then came to pay them homage.

President Clinton, who was born two years after D-Day, was joined here by French President Francois Mitterrand, who is 77 and fought in the French Army and the Resistance in World War II. Queen Elizabeth II of England came to the ceremonies, too. She was a young princess when the Allies invaded Normandy on June 6, 1944.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

President Clinton and President Mitterrand laid floral tributes at the base of the square pillar that honors the soldiers who took Utah Beach, men of the 90th Infantry Division, the 1st Engineer Special Battalion, the 4th Infantry Division and the guerrillas of the French Resistance.

As a trumpeter played the long, mournful notes of taps and 60,000 people stood in silence, a stiff, damp wind whipped American and French flags seaward.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. Mitterrand stood roughly at attention as troops of both countries marched in review. Mr. Clinton returned the U.S. troop commander's salute quite snappily.

"We have gathered to remember those who stormed this beach for freedom. They never came home," President Clinton said.

"We pay tribute to what a whole generation of U.S. men did," he said. "But let us also recall what was lost here. We must never forget that thousands of people gave everything they learned or what they might have become, so that freedom might live."

The president paid his own tribute to the French Resistance: "They, too, kept freedom's flame alive during those horrible times. Thousands were executed. Thousands died in Nazi concentration camps."

He told of a French woman who wrote every week of her life to the families of Americans who died here. Her son continues her work.

"We must carry on the work of those who did not return," he said. "We must turn the pain of loss into the power of redemption so that 50, or 100, or 1,000 years from now those who bought our liberty with their lives will never be forgotten."

"To those of of you who have survived and come back to this hallowed ground, let me say what the rest of us know, that the most difficult day of your lives bought us 50 years of freedom."

The old men gathered here agreed that they had fought a "good" war that saved the world from horrendous evil.

"Almost the whole world is free, for gosh sakes," said Ralph Anderson, 70, who wore his half-century old uniform to the memorial ceremonies at the U.S. memorial just beyond the dune line here.

'I'm from Omaha'

"I'm from Omaha and I landed at Omaha Beach," Mr. Anderson said. A technician for the old Army Signal Corps, he landed two days after D-Day and fought in five campaigns to the Elbe River in Germany.

"I believe if Hitler hadn't have been stopped he would have ruled the world," Mr. Anderson said. "The future wouldn't have looked very bright for anybody."

"We believed in what they told us," John Smith, 73, another Signal Corps veteran wearing his olive drab Eisenhower jacket and his orange-piped campaign hat. "D-Day was to liberate Europe from what Churchill said, was the scourge of the Nazis."

The crowd of mostly U.S. veterans cheered lustily as the 101st Airborne Division band played "Stars and Stripes Forever." Paratroopers of the 101st attacked about 10 miles inland just after midnight on D-Day. Many drowned in flooded meadows at Carentan -- now crossed by a four-lane highway bridge.

As the 82nd Airborne Division chorus sang, "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me," and "Dreams," the spectators seemed to breathe a big happy sigh.

The 82nd landed 20 miles west of here in the early morning hours of D-Day and captured the first town, Ste.-Mere-Eglise, before dawn.

Bernie Cirantineo, 72, of Chicago, listened to the old songs that were new in 1944 and said: "We believed in duty and honor and we had a belief in our country."

He loaded rockets, bullets and bombs on P-47 Thunderbolts. He arrived at Utah Beach two days after D-Day.

"There were still bodies floating in from the sea," he said. "They were a lot of burned DKWs [amphibious vehicles], trucks and stuff."

Clinton cheered

There was a benediction here at Utah Beach. President Clinton strolled from the low grassy platform of the memorial, shaking hands and greeting the veterans in the crowd as he left. He received lots of cheers and applause and a least one yell of, "We love you."

Later, he repeated his message of tribute to the men of D-Day who had saved freedom for new generations as he visited beaches and cemeteries from Pointe du Hoc to Omaha.

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