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President Bush Prepares to Speak at Normandy Beach

Aired May 27, 2002 - 07:59   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Army Rangers were called upon on D-Day to scale a sheer rock wall and take out heavy German fortifications at the top, one of the most unbelievable acts of individual combat heroism ever. I mean this was a sheer rock wall going up over 100 feet from the beach. And if they don't get to the top and take out the fortifications, the troops that are coming in on LSTs will suffer even greater casualties.

He's going to visit there. There's the president and the first lady marching in what looks like a little drizzle perhaps. The president carrying his own umbrella, something for protection, that is.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you mentioned that, and if anyone has ever been to that site looking down it, staring straight down this rocky face, literally it drops off into the ocean waters and, you know, it's been detailed and chronicled in so many documentaries. But to see it in person is such an, it's an awesome sight, frankly.

And so, too, is the cemetery that we're going to see here, too, with the rows and rows of crosses that have been aligned in, you know, perfect fashion.

CAFFERTY: Meanwhile, you mentioned that he's going to speak, the president, to about 2,000 veterans of D-Day. And sadly with the passage of time, it's a smaller and smaller group each year. But what they did, arguably, changed the course of history. They have been called the greatest generation ever. I'm hard pressed to think of one that accomplished more right offhand. But the ones that are left are getting old now and they're disappearing.

HEMMER: Off to the, in the distance there you can see the English Channel cutting through. Omaha and Utah Beach not too far from this particular location. And one would assume that the placard they're looking at there in front of the president and the first lady details the geography.

And there are a number of museums, actually, that dot this part of western France. It should come as no surprise that it's not necessarily an American perspective, Jack, inside these museums. If you go there and visit, you find the British have a pretty high stake in this, as well, and they let you know that quite clearly.

CAFFERTY: Well, and rightfully so.

HEMMER: Indeed.

CAFFERTY: Of course, the French underground, the resistance against the German occupation played a role in supplying some intelligence to the Allied commanders ahead of the invasion. It was, it was a big effort on the part of freedom loving people everywhere and those who participated deserve all the credit there is.

A hundred and thirty thousand troops coming ashore that day.

HEMMER: June of 1944. They would arrive in Berlin in April of the following year. And with the capitulation of Adolph Hitler and the Germans coming on the 30th of April in 1945. It is an awe inspiring site. And especially one has to consider for this president, the son of a veteran of WWII.


HEMMER: This has to have a special place in his heart, certainly.

CAFFERTY: You can see it in his face that he is deeply moved by what he's experiencing there.

You've been there, right?

HEMMER: Indeed.

CAFFERTY: You were over there.


CAFFERTY: I'd like to go some day.

HEMMER: It is a place that I recommend all Americans go -- not just Americans, too, Brits and French and anyone who has participated or looking back at history from this perspective. It is, it's a place that'll take you back, certainly.

Let's listen a little bit here, see what we can pick up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there was a colonel on the beach and he said there's two kind of people on this beach, those that are dead and those who are going to die. So let's move forward (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like I said in my speech, it's the only battle that we know of where the wounded were moved forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. That's right. And they started the very next morning, some of the veterans we were talking with mentioned that...

HEMMER: This is part of the mention of two types of people on this beach, those who are dead and those who are going to die. CAFFERTY: Yes, it was quite a day. It took them all day to secure the beachhead, fortifications in the water, enemy fire from above. They shelled the beach all day, but the Allies prevailed. By late that afternoon they had secured the beach and by the next day they began to move more men and all of the materiel on shore that would be used in the long march toward Berlin and the eventual winning of the war in Europe.

But at what price? It was a huge price to pay.

HEMMER: Incredible.

We anticipate this to be the visit to the grave of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Teddy Roosevelt, who landed on that day in June, 1944. Later died of a hatch July 12, 1944, a bit more than, about a month later, five to six weeks later. Won every combat medal given by the U.S. Army. Served as a New York State assemblyman. I think he even had a run for governor at one point. Wrote eight different books, vice president of Doubleday Publishing, buried next to his brother Quentin there in Normandy.

CAFFERTY: That's a family, the Roosevelts, who did a little in the way of public service. He's buried next to his brother. That was a look over the precipice down at the beach and we assume now that the president and the first lady are making their way toward the location where he will make an address to the assembled veterans of that historic day.

HEMMER: There are some things we can probably anticipate in this address today, Jack, and that certainly will be the tie-in not to just what happened in June of '44, but as the president not only addresses the veterans and the French people, but also the Americans as we look at this live picture, the current war on terrorism and how that is relevant today. One could argue for the White House that draws a strong parallel to what happened in the mid-19402.

CAFFERTY: This is at a time, too, when there is a certain second guessing beginning to take place in the nation's capital, partisanship beginning to rear its head, questions being asked about whether or not the counterintelligence community that the United States funds to the tune of some $30 billion a year did all of the right things in the days leading up to September the 11th.

The Democrats are calling for an independent set of hearings into what happened in that regard prior to September 11. The administration saying no, the two intelligence committees in the Congress are sufficient to examine what happened. We have this member of the FBI out in the new issue of "Time" magazine this week saying that executives at highest levels in the FBI actually impeded the investigation into Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, and the memos that suggested that perhaps there should be cause for concern because of foreign nationals taking training at American flight schools.

So the president of the United States has a lot on his plate as he strolls that hallowed ground over there. HEMMER: And we will talk more about that, in fact, next hour. Lane Shannon (ph) with "Time" magazine given the memo, the letter, that was printed over the weekend. Another FBI agent, this time in Minnesota, questioning the tactics at the highest level. We will gauge the merits of that memo and see what more was in it in terms of fact versus emotion next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

But the president right now, and the first lady, off to the grave site, we are told, of Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. Again, as we mentioned, he passed away in July of 1944 after storming the beaches of Normandy.

CAFFERTY: Survived the invasion and died of a heart attack a month or so later.

HEMMER: And after that, we do anticipate the address of the president to take place.

You know, one thing that I think is quite remarkable, Jack, as we stare across the bank of crosses there, occasionally you see a Star of David, which is the only deviation in the entire cemetery.

Quite fitting today that the president would be there. We saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall just last hour and talking with those who have such a strong connection with that battle and that war.

CAFFERTY: You wonder, Bill, this is the first Memorial Day since the terrorist attack of September the 11th and you just wonder how the flavor of the local Memorial Day observances and parades around the country may be enhanced by the renewed patriotism that surfaced after the terrorist attacks against America.

I know Jason Carroll is out in Long Island. We're going to hear a report from him a bit later on a local community out there. But in small towns all across the country, it's a wonderful thing, if you have an hour, to go to the local Memorial Day parade. It's usually put on by the local VFW. And just go out and take a moment to remember and say thanks to the people who gave us this day as a free one.

HEMMER: It certainly has a different feeling this year, does it not?

CAFFERTY: Yes, it does.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

Back in a moment. Back to Normandy as well. First to Atlanta. Let's get to Kyra Phillips, as we await the address, for our news alert.


HEMMER: Back to Normandy. We continue to watch and await the president. We saw the president and the first lady walk into the cemetery a short time ago, visiting the grave site of Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., who lost his life in July of 1944. We anticipate the president's remarks any moment, in fact, right now, and about a 15 minute address. We've talked about the D-Day veterans who have made their way back.

And, Jack, I want to talk a little bit more about this when we come back from a commercial break. But it always surprises me how many veterans find the time in their lives to go back and pay another visit to a place where they almost gave their lives and today they live forward.

Let's get to a break. Back in a moment.


HEMMER: And once again welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING live in New York City. I'm Bill Hemmer. Good to have you with us, along for this holiday.

Paula is off today. She is back tomorrow.

No holiday for Jack Cafferty, though. He is with me.

CAFFERTY: Indeed. Nice to have you up here in New York with us.

HEMMER: Well, thank you, man. Good to be here.

We're going to get our viewers back to Normandy, France, where, again, we anticipate the president will be making his remarks any moment now with the first lady. And before we get to that, Jack, I want to talk just a little bit more about the veterans who not only go back, but, you know, the thing to remember about 1944 going into 1945 is we talk about how brutal and vicious this battle was for the Allied troops who stormed that beach.

But the fight was nowhere near over at that point. You had to get all the way through France. The Battle of the Bulge and the Ardennes (ph) in Europe Belgium, the northern part of Luxembourg. You eventually had to get to the Rhine and cross the Rhine and make your way to Berlin. It was an enormous sacrifice and this was just, in the sense of argument here, the first large step in terms of military strategy.

June of '44 you hit the beach. It was about 10 months later before you had any real capitulation on the side of the Germans.

CAFFERTY: You know, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, Bill, and in war time that can mean lives saved. Apparently the Third Reich made some dramatic miscalculations about where the invasion was scheduled to happen, about when, how to deploy Rommel's armor to repel. They had -- they were in the wrong place. They were looking in the wrong place. They had a lot of their defensive weaponry in the wrong place.

And had things been just a little different or if the intelligence network had somehow broken down and they had been able to intercept some of the intelligence that would have given them a better idea of where this invasion was coming, it might have turned out differently, although eventually I think the outcome of the war would have been as it was. But they got some good luck that day.

HEMMER: Despite that, though, there was a formidable German force...

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

HEMMER: ... waiting on top of that beach head, on top of that cliff when the Allied troops came on board.

French President Jacques Chirac, we saw him about an hour ago. He is back leading that procession. So, too, on the far left of the screen, Secretary of State Colin Powell. A week long European tour for the president. Secretary Powell, Condoleezza Rice also on that tour, all beginning in Germany last week, in Berlin, going to Russia over the weekend, that signing of a nuclear arms pact with Vladimir Putin. Now in France and then later today and tomorrow, Tuesday, Prime Minister Berlusconi in Italy for the final stop of this tour.

Here is the president now, and this should be, we anticipate, the beginning of the remarks on this Memorial Day from the beaches of Normandy in the American Cemetery there.

CAFFERTY: That's quite a picture right there.

HEMMER: It must be an awe inspiring walk right there.

CAFFERTY: Yes, you wonder what's going through his mind now as he makes his way to the microphone there. I was noticing we had a banner up earlier, 1,500 plus Americans never accounted for, still listed as missing in action.

HEMMER: Well over 9,000 people losing their lives in that battle.

We are waiting. When the president gets at the end of this walk here his address, which should extend about 15 minutes time, and we mentioned about 45 minutes ago normally the American president is at Arlington National Cemetery on a day like today. But given the events of the world, this becomes even more poignant, I think, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I think so, too.

HEMMER: Normandy Beach, reflecting back about, you know, about 1944 and we certainly will hear some of those comments contained in this speech forthcoming.

CAFFERTY: And the president, part of his, the reason for this trip was to try and shore up European support for the war against terrorism and this is perhaps the perfect setting to remind everyone what's at stake here.

HEMMER: That is an awful long walk.

CAFFERTY: You can hear the applause beginning now as he apparently gets closer. HEMMER: If you're just joining us on this Memorial Day, we are awaiting the president's comments there to about 2,000 veterans who have made the trek back to Normandy, veterans from the D-Day invasion in June 6, 1944. The president and the first lady in a town nearby not too long ago now making the trek to the cemetery, where the speech will be made as we watch from Normandy, France.




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