Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day — the Allied invasion of France, June 6, 1944, the beginning of that nation’s liberation from Nazi tyranny. A French diplomat serving in Atlanta describes his country’s eternal gratitude for the sacrifices by Americans and their allies, while the daughter of a World War II veteran reflects on the courage of those who served. In a third piece, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry calls on Congress to support those who helped us in the present-day conflict in Afghanistan.
D-Day plus 70: France is still grateful
By Denis Barbet
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Seventy years may seem like a long time ago, but to those who were there and to those who live free from tyranny because of it, June 6, 1944 was not so long ago.
Friday, the whole of France will pause and remember the 154,000 soldiers who embarked upon one of the greatest military undertakings ever planned. Many official ceremonies will take place in France and the United States to commemorate the historic date.
In France, there will be seven bi-national commemorations held, including a French-American ceremony at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in the presence of the president of the French Republic and President Barack Obama. This will be one of the highlights of this historic summer and a unique opportunity to highlight the close ties between our countries.
Several hundred American veterans of World War II will attend, including Richard S. Bailey of Kennesaw, who I had the immense privilege of meeting in 2013. Then, later that day, an international ceremony will unite 17 heads of state and governments in the city of Ouistreham. These official commemorations promise to be a special moment to render homage to all of the brave allied soldiers who fought, side by side, in very difficult situations.
Here at the Consulate General of France in Atlanta, we will continue to do our part to honor those who fought to restore freedom to the French people. One of the most gratifying responsibilities I have in my job as consul general is to preside over the Legion of Honor ceremonies, honoring American veterans of World War II who fought to help liberate France from Nazi occupation during 1944-1945 with France’s highest distinction.
Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the National Order of the Legion of Honor recognizes eminent services to the French Republic. Recipients of this honor are designated by the president of the Republic of France. About 10 years ago, President Jacques Chirac instituted the policy of bestowing the Legion of Honor upon all veterans of World War II who fought on French soil in 1944 and 1945.
The decision was made because of the desire to express the solemn gratitude of France to all American soldiers who, at one time or another, fought on French soil during the Second World War. Since then, several hundred have been decorated across America. Whether it was 10 years ago or today, it is never too late to express to these American veterans the eternal gratitude of France and the French people.
Since taking over my functions almost two years ago, I was quite surprised to discover how many veterans were settled in the U.S. Southeast. So far, I have had the honor of participating in 12 Legion of Honor ceremonies in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. It is such a privilege for me to honor these American veterans of World War II and thank them for their service. On April 3, one such ceremony was held at the state Capitol in Atlanta, honoring eight veterans from Georgia in the presence of Gov. Nathan Deal, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and, of course, families and friends.
Beyond the formalities of the Legion of Honor ceremonies, these solemn yet boisterous events provide an opportunity for a sort of transmission of memory and history when veterans are honored. Indeed, many veterans have memories of all that they lived through and saw which, for reasons of discretion, they have not always shared with their families. As I read each man’s heroic actions before decorating him with the insignia of knight in the Legion of Honor, a bridge is built between the past, the present and — for those who will carry that memory — the future.
Amidst the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a Legion of Honor ceremony is being organized in South Carolina, and our veterans’ affairs office is processing applications as quickly as possible to ensure each eligible veteran receives France’s highest honor. After all, these men are our heroes, and we the French, we will never forget them.
To find out more aboutLegion of Honor eligibility or to request an application, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-495-1660.
Denis Barbet is consul general of France to the U.S. Southeast.
D-Day sacrifices will never be forgotten
By Ann McFeatters
WASHINGTON — Decades after my father landed in Europe during the D-Day Battle for Normandy, he finally talked about it, including the horror of watching men laden with heavy packs and weapons drowning because they couldn’t swim in the frigid, churning water.
He also talked about the grit, bravery and determination of the young Allied soldiers as they struggled to regroup and head up the beaches, dodging staccato bursts of deadly German gunfire.
My dad would have additional months of intense fighting, but D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge remained pivotal in his memories of war throughout his life. He would return home, father 10 children and march in Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades for more than 60 years.
Fewer than one in seven Americans alive today was alive on June 6, 1944, one of the most fateful military dates in history. But Normandy still stands as a synonym for courage, heroism and the best humans have to offer — making the supreme sacrifice to help others.
It’s hard for us today to realize how electrifying the news of the D-Day invasion was on the home front, or how dreadful it would have been if the invasion had failed — as such a complicated, weather-battered operation could so easily have done. If Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, commanding the Allied forces, had waited any longer, the great storm of mid-June might have been insurmountable.
I was privileged to be at the 50th anniversary of D-Day. I will never forget the lined, proud faces of the veterans who managed long airplane rides, canes, wheelchairs and arthritic knees to be there. I will always remember how their eyes shone with tears as they reached to grasp the left hand of Bob Dole, the Kansas senator who lost the use of his right arm and is beloved for his courage and service in World War II.
There were even some paratroopers who re-enacted their daring plunge from the skies over enemy territory to light the fires that would help the airborne assaults.
Former President Bill Clinton was the speaker that day. Some mocked him for walking alone on the beach, picking up a few stones, “staging a photo opportunity.” But as a student of history, William Jefferson Clinton was completely awed as he contemplated the sacrifices and heroism of that day.
And who could not be moved by what happened at Normandy, even today? The Germans were expecting an invasion and were well-fortified. They didn’t know when it would happen, but they believed a defeat at Normandy would mean the end of the Fatherland.
Eisenhower was a bundle of nerves, smoking four packs a day and drinking gallons of coffee, trying to plan the agonizingly postponed operation of moving nearly 150,000 military personnel over the storm-tossed English Channel to attempt the first successful opposed landing in eight centuries. He also had to coordinate the air attack for the largest amphibious landing ever. In one month, 1 million men were landed.
Who even today is not moved by the quiet nearby cemeteries, with their rows and rows of eerily symmetrical white crosses and Stars of David?
During the liberation of Normandy, 19,890 French civilians were killed, and thousands more were injured. During three summer months in 1944, the Wehrmacht lost 240,000 men. During that period, 125,847 Americans died, and 83,045 British, Canadian and Polish soldiers were lost. An additional 16,714 Allied air force personnel perished.
On a bluff overlooking the channel are 9,387 Americans who never returned home and are buried at the American cemetery Colleville-sur-Mer, including 33 pairs of brothers and a father and his son.
As Clinton said as he looked upon the veterans in front of him 20 years ago, “Let us never forget, when they were young, these men saved the world.”
Even when there are no Americans left who were alive on D-Day, the Normandy invasion never will be forgotten.
Ann McFeatters is an Opinion columnist for the McClatchy-Tribune news service.
More visas for Afghan allies
By John F. Kerry
The way a country winds down a war in a faraway place and stands with those who risked their own safety to help in the fight sends a message to the world that is not soon forgotten.
As President Barack Obama announced last week, the United States will withdraw all but 9,800 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and by the end of 2016, only a small force will be left at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As the withdrawal proceeds, the United States is in danger of sending the wrong message to Afghan interpreters and others who risked their lives helping our troops and diplomats do their jobs in Afghanistan over the last decade.
The State Department and other government agencies have improved the path to safety for record numbers of our Afghan allies, but now we need help from Congress to continue that progress and fulfill our obligation.
The Afghan special immigrant visa program was established by Congress in 2009 to help Afghans whose work for the U.S. government put them in danger of retaliation. The program, modeled after one for Iraqis, was designed to identify people who faced genuine threats and to speed their entry to this country.
U.S. diplomats moved around Afghanistan, explaining the rules and procedures to potential applicants. We encouraged people to apply early to maintain a steady flow of cases and minimize wait times. Congress helped by clarifying the rules about how applicants can demonstrate that they face threats.
Even as we streamlined the process, we applied strict safeguards to prevent anyone who posed a threat to the U.S. from slipping through the process. And, because the State Department is just one stop on a visa applicant’s journey from paperwork to port of entry, we worked with our interagency partners to help clear their backlogs as well.
The results have been dramatic. Nearly 5,000 Afghans, mainly interpreters and their families, have received visas under the program since Oct. 1, 2013, compared with roughly 1,600 in the previous 12 months. More than 1,000 Afghan interpreters received visas in March and April alone.
This success has created a new challenge. At the current pace, we expect to reach the 2014 fiscal year visa cap of 3,000, authorized by Congress, sometime in July. This leaves us in danger of stranding hundreds of deserving Afghans until a new batch of visas is approved for 2015. It’s an outcome that will be dangerous for applicants — and damaging to our national credibility the next time we have to rely on local knowledge.
Keeping our word requires passing legislation this summer to authorize additional visas for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next fiscal year. We don’t want to lose the hard-won momentum or put lives at risk.
John F. Kerry is the U.S. secretary of state. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.