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President Biden helps commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy


Today, President Biden participated in a ceremony honoring World War II veterans, many of whom stormed the shores of Normandy 80 years ago today. A number of those who survived were onstage with Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, who presented about a dozen of them with the Legion of Honor Medal.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: Monsieur John Wardell, Monsieur Calvin Shiner, Monsieur...

SUMMERS: Biden urged the world not to forget the lessons of that war. NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith was there. She joins us now from Normandy. Hi, Tam.


SUMMERS: So Tam, I'm hoping you can just paint a picture for us of what it was like there this morning at the American Cemetery in Normandy, overlooking Omaha Beach.

KEITH: It was incredibly somber and also just extremely touching. There were impressive military aircraft flyovers. But most remarkable were the dozens of World War II veterans in their late 90s and over a hundred years old, who once again made this trip to Normandy. In essence, they were there to bear witness for those who didn't survive the D-Day invasion and the operations that followed. More than 9,000 Americans are buried in that cemetery, and it is marked with seemingly endless rows of white marble crosses and Stars of David.

Most of the veterans were brought to the stage in wheelchairs, though the ones who walked on their own two feet got extra applause from the crowd of thousands. And Macron awarded the medals as the veterans stood, some with great effort, some with helpers keeping them propped up. Macron gave them kisses on each cheek, very French. And then Biden stood and shook hands, then leaned in and whispered in their ears, sometimes touching their faces. And before his remarks, we heard from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who commended those who fought.


LLOYD AUSTIN: You saved the world, and we must only defend it. Gentlemen, we salute you.

SUMMERS: And, Tam, what can you tell us about President Biden's message there today?

KEITH: President Biden noted that many of these veterans are more than a hundred years old, and it's not clear how many more of these ceremonies they'll be able to attend. But he said that democracy is more threatened today than it has been since the end of World War II. He said that their voices must be remembered and held up, and that Americans and the world have to remember the lessons from World War II. Here he is talking about defending Ukraine from Russia as one example.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators is simply unthinkable. Were we to do that, it means we'd be forgetting what happened here at these hallowed beaches.

KEITH: He said that democracy has to be fought for. Another lesson he said coming out of World War II is the power of alliances. It wasn't just American troops. It was Canadian and British troops who came in to ultimately liberate Europe. And Biden talked about the strength of NATO, which grew out of World War II, and has since most recently pulled together to support Ukraine after Russia's invasion.

SUMMERS: And I understand that President Biden heads back to Normandy tomorrow. Tell us, what do you expect to hear from him there?

KEITH: Tomorrow's address is going to be aimed more at a domestic audience and could potentially get more political. Defending freedom and democracy is obviously a theme of this anniversary, but it is also a theme of Biden's reelection campaign and an area where he's trying to draw contrast with former President Donald Trump. I will just note that the location where Biden is giving this address, Pointe du Hoc, is where Army Rangers scaled a very sheer cliff and under fire, and once they got there, were able to take out German positions. There were heavy casualties. And then-President Ronald Reagan, 40 years ago, delivered an incredibly moving speech from that very location.

SUMMERS: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.