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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Marks Memorial Day in Normandy

SAINTE-MERE-L'EGLISE, France -- U.S. President George W. Bush paid homage to American war dead near Normandy's D-Day beaches Monday and vowed that his generation is ready to make the same sacrifice in the U.S. war against terrorism.

"It is fitting that we remember those who sacrificed, because today we defend our freedoms, we defend our freedoms against people who can't stand freedom," he said in the stone church at Sainte-Mere-L'Eglise, the first French town liberated by U.S. troops after D-Day in June 1944.

"This defense will require the sacrifice of our forefathers, but it is a sacrifice I can promise you we'll make, a sacrifice we will make for the good of America, the good of France and for the good of freedom all over the world."

Bush arrived by helicopter on a gray, damp day and was met by several hundred children waving tiny French and American flags. The small red-roofed church was packed to capacity with 350 guests and some of Sainte-Mere-L'Eglise's 1,600 townsfolk.

A memorial service at the church attended by Bush and French President Jacques Chirac was the prelude to a ceremony at the D-Day cemetery on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday.

Bush saw the steeple where, 58 years ago, Paratrooper John Steel's chute snagged, leaving him dangling helplessly to watch as many of his comrades were killed by waiting Germans.

A mannequin of a soldier hanging from a snagged parachute has adorned the church ever since in memory of the battle.

"I'm going to talk about modern-day sacrifices," Bush said Sunday in a preview of his speech at the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer in northwestern France. "We still fight people who hate civilization."

It is a tradition for U.S. presidents to visit the landing beaches at Normandy where the June 6, 1944 invasion of U.S., British and other allied forces began a rollback of the Nazi war machine entrenched in western Europe and helped end World War II the following year.

Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches on the 40th anniversary in 1984 and Bill Clinton was there in 1994 for the 50th. Bush, whose father, a former president, fought in the Pacific as a torpedo bomber pilot in World War II, goes at a time Americans are still reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks.

"All Memorial Days are days in which Americans ought to give thanks for freedom and the fact that somebody sacrificed for their freedom. This Memorial Day is the first Memorial Day in a long time in which younger Americans know firsthand the price that was paid for their freedom," Bush said.

However Bush was not welcomed by all, and in Caen, inland from the D-Day beaches, an anti-Bush protest Sunday brought out between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators.

The U.S. president and his wife, Laura, were due to take a helicopter tour of other various sites, including Pointe du Hoc, where the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled a 30-meter cliff and seized German artillery pieces that could have fired on the U.S. troops landing at Omaha Beach.

Chirac, at a news conference with Bush on Sunday in Paris, called Bush's presence for the holiday "a very powerful gesture that we will not forget."