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Another U.S. Soldier Dies In Iraq, Total Now 826; Pope John Paul II Visits Switzerland

Aired June 5, 2004 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are the top stories at this hour, Ronald Reagan's health has taken a turn for the worst. That word from sources familiar with his situation. Sources say the White House has been told Reagan's death could be soon or it could be weeks or months from now. The 93-year-old former president was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about a decade ago.
The death toll for American troops in Iraq is 826. A U.S. soldier was killed this morning when a roadside bomb flipped over a military vehicle. The attack took place in Baghdad. Three other American troops were wounded. Six hundred and seven Americans have died in combat.

Pope John Paul II is on a quick visit to Switzerland, his first papal trip away from the Vatican in nine months. He arrived this morning Bern. The 84-year-old pontiff is attending a youth rally today, and tomorrow he celebrates mass in a meadow outside the Swiss capital.


We begin with an event that's remembered around the world this weekend -- D-day. Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the invasion that led to the liberation of Europe and helped close the book on World War II. Before tomorrow's commemoration, there are several D- Day events today. At Portsmouth in southern England, a Floatilla set sail for the coast of France. Aboard the ship, hundreds of veterans who helped storm the beaches of Normandy six decades ago. And in the skies of Western France, these scenes right here, several parachute drops were part of the D-Day recollection.

President Bush and other world leaders are gathering in France for D-Day after a stopover in Paris, Mr. Bush heads to Normandy tomorrow. Christiane Amanpour is with us now from hallowed ground in Normandy, the American Cemetery on the bluff above Omaha Beach -- Christian.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, that's exactly right. And this cemetery, which has, laid in its ground here, with crosses and some stars of David, 9,000 -- more than 9,000 U.S. veterans of D-Day, the battle of Normandy, and the rest of the battles to liberate France and then on to Europe, and it is above Omaha, which was the bloodiest battle right after the forces landed on the beach that morning, 60 years ago. And this is where President Bush and other world leaders, including the French president, will holding one of the principle commemorations tomorrow. And this is where they will speak about that incredible moment of the Atlantic alliance, what many say, and what has gone down in history as the Atlantic alliance's greatest achievement, the unity forged when democracy started to fight back against the tyranny that was Nazis in Europe.

President Bush is now in France. He came from meetings in Italy where he spoke with his war-time ally, that is the ally over the Iraq war, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. And now in France he meets with President Jacques Chirac, who was the war-time critic, the fiercest international critic of the Iraqi war.

But, president Chirac will host a dinner for President Bush and his wife. It'll be the two presidents and their wives and it is an attempt to move forward and to move beyond. On this weekend both leaders are talking about a new spirit of unity and to try to move forward. They're talking about the U.N. Resolution that is up for passage at the Security Council, perhaps this week.

President Bush gave two interviews to French magazines and also wrote a letter to a French newspaper. President Chirac gave an interview to NBC, he spoke in English and they have both spoken about the need to move forward and certainly, President Chirac said that despite our differences we say a big thank you to the Americans. We do not forget who liberated us 60 years ago.

There are many, many commemorations that have started already, one day ahead of the anniversary of the landings. In a nearby cemetery there was a commemoration today by the French and Canadians. There at the cemetery, more than 2,000 Canadians are buried, also veterans of D-Day and the battle for Normandy. The prime minister of France was there, and senior Canadian officials were there as well and they both spoke about that moment so many years ago that was the finest moment of the Atlantic alliance, and in which so many people paid such a high price and paid such high sacrifices to liberate Europe from Nazism.

Prince Charles, the heir to the British thrown took part in a host of commemorations, laying wreaths, paying homage, paying respect, pinning medals to the already heaving chests and bemedaled chests of many veterans. They formed a huge bulk of the D-Day liberators. Prince Charles was at Pegasus Bridge today, in which he paid tribute to the to those members of the 6th British Airborne Division who parachuted on to that strategic bridge near Caen and secured that vital area there and secured it and made it impossible for the Germans to have a counterattack from Caen. He paid tribute to the veterans of that parachute jump, the first, it was the first jump, the first action by the allies in the very early pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944.

And so we're will be here for the rest of this day, for the all of tomorrow and we will have extensive coverage of these solemn and emotional tributes and commemorations of that incredible day 60 years ago -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Christiane, I know you're far from Paris now, but momentarily Chirac and Bush will meet up, as you noted. Any sense as to what the mood might be between them? I know those previous interviews have taken place, but this will be the first time they've met face to face since last September and it's expected there just may be some residual tension.

AMANPOUR: Well, actually I don't think there will be in their meeting tonight. According to all the officials that have been quoted, certainly we here have, here, talked to senior Chirac aides who told us that, yes, they will discuss their differences over the Iraq war, and those differences remain profound. France continues to oppose that war. It does not believe it was positive. And it believes that the current situation in Iraq is extremely destructive and they're very worried about it. So they will have frank discussions about that. As I mentioned, the U.N. Resolution that is designed to facilitate the progress and the workings of the new interim Iraqi government that will formally take over June 30th, July 1st, after the occupation ends, in other words, the handover for the end of this month. Those will be the substance of their talks. But they also talk very, very strongly about what Sunday will be about. Again, they will be together, they will be taking part in the ceremonies and commemorations together and they will remember that moment where France and America, Britain and the other European countries were forged in a vital bond of unity to take part in one of the most important battles of the 20th century. And they will, France will say thank you and the Americans will pay tribute to that incredible alliance.

We understand that, although we're not sure, we understand perhaps President Bush will not use his speech tomorrow to draw comparisons as he has done in the past between the war in Iraq and the war against Nazism, 60 years ago. The French had voiced very strong reservations about that, saying it was not appropriate to draw those kinds of comparisons on D-Day. And it would not be well-received. So this, we understand, is not going to be a centerpiece of the speech tomorrow, but of course, we will have to wait and see until that speech is delivered -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Christiane Amanpour from hallowed ground, there at Normandy, not far from Omaha Beach.

With about three weeks until the return of sovereignty, Iraq is a dangerous place for coalition forces. An American soldier was killed and three others were wounded in Baghdad, today. And violence was reported in other parts of the country, as well. Harris Whitbeck is in Baghdad and joins us live -- Harris.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, but we might have some encouraging news to report. An important agreement between radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the more mainstream Shiite leadership could mean an end to hostilities in the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa. According to a statement from Al-Sadr's office, he met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani and agreed to withdraw forces. Coalition spokesman, Dan Senor, confirmed the militia are, in fact, withdrawing and he said a sense of normalcy is returning to those cities. But Senor warned al-Sadr and his militia are still seen with mistrust.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAN SENOR, COALITION SPOKESMAN: Just because we are making progress in Najaf and Kufa does not mean that Moqtada al-Sadr can withdraw his forces, redeploy them in another part of the country and we will ignore them. We want to bring peaceful resolution to Najaf and surrounding areas, but we will not tolerate violent action by Moqtada's militia in other parts of country.


WHITBECK: The U.S. still wants to see al-Sadr face Iraqi justice for the killing of a rival Shiite cleric which occurred after the U.S.-led invasion last year. Now, the Iraqi national police are patrolling key areas of Kufa and Najaf, and people seem to be starting to attempt to go about their daily lives. Now, daily life is still a subject -- is still subject to violence in the Iraqi capital, however. A U.S. soldier was killed this morning when a roadside bomb exploded under a military vehicle that he was next to or he was with, near the Transportation Ministry, here in the Iraqi capital -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Harris Whitbeck in Baghdad thanks for that update.

World War II wasn't solely about fighting the Nazis. For many black Americans it was about fighting for their own right. A look at that battle straight ahead.

And later, time is running out for researchers as decay eats away at the remains of the "Titanic" we'll hear from a team member on the high seas straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: By some accounts 2,000 African-American troops took part in the D-Day invasion. A million blacks served in World War II fighting fascism abroad and racism at home. Here's Miguel Marquez.


EDWIN N. THOMAS, SR., WWII VETERAN: My name is Edwin N. Thomas, Sr.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's 85 years old and an avid dancer. Perhaps the most important experience of his life, thought, came in 1943, swept up into World War II.

THOMAS: We were drafted. I had no choice. When World War II broke out they started calling everybody.

MARQUEZ: Like most African Americans, Thomas was not called up until after two years after the U.S. entered the war. Until then, draft boards denied him the right to serve in combat.

THOMAS: People that had brains knew that if we did that, they couldn't demand a thing after the war was over.

MARQUEZ: African-Americans fought at home for the right to die abroad. Initially blacks were allowed only menial jobs, no combat. Edwin Thomas was part of a segregated crew loading ships with ammunition.

THOMAS: We were all black. My whole outfit was black, except for our officers. All our officers were white.

MARQUEZ: Eventually African-Americans contributed their blood to the war effort, from the Tuskegee Airmen to hundreds of thousands of infantrymen to African-American nurses.

EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ANALYST: There was a double fight that went on against Hitler and against Japanese fascism and the second fight to make democracy a reality within the American military.

MARQUEZ: It was that double fight, says Hutchinson, that was the seed for the Civil Rights movement.

IHUTCHINSON: It gave them pride. They didn't have to take the rotten conditions, they didn't have to accept that treatment anymore.

MARQUEZ: Edwin Thomas says he didn't feel mistreated during the war, but says if given the chance he would have gladly done more.

THOMAS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to know you had the qualifications to do something that you were not allowed to do.

MARQUEZ: Thomas, though, has no regrets. After the service he went to work for the post office, retiring in 1981. He now looks forward to the next dance.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


WHITFIELD: Well, to talk more about the military history of African-American men and women, author of "We Were There." Yvonne Latty is in Philadelphia.

Hello to you, Yvonne.


WHITFIELD: I'm doing great. Well, you profiled 28 black men and women who represent a legion of African-Americans who have served in World War II and in the ongoing war on terrorism. You know, particularly the World War II vets, how did you go about finding them, A? And then B, getting them to talk about memories that so many admit to suppressing for so many years?

LATTY: It was very difficult because so many of them do suppress the memories because of the racism they experienced. It's not something you want to dwell on or continue to think about. Many of them just went on, tried to live the best life they could.

WHITFIELD: So how did you do it? Who did you convince them?

LATTY: I was like a maniac. I was on the internet, I was asking all my friends. I'm a reporter in Philadelphia, so I used advanced search programs. I went to the library. I just did everything I could to try to find these men and women. And one of the ones I did want to find is someone who served at D-Day. That was huge for me.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Among those, that you profiled, Leonard Smith, a member of the 1st Black Armored Tank Battalion to fight in a war.

LATTY: Right.

WHITFIELD: How did you go about locating him?

LATTY: I found an article in a newspaper in Florida where he had retired to. They kind of honored him in a library and there was a quote from him. I said "Oh! Leonard Smith lives in Ft. Lauderdale." I did a huge -- you know, looked in phonebooks,, and I finally found Leonard and he's just amazing and his story's amazing and incredibly moving and empowering.

WHITFIELD: And there were women, as well. There is a story of Lieutenant Army Nurse Margarit (PH) Gertrude Ivy Bertram. She says her days in nursing school was the beginning of the best days of her life. What did she mean by that?

LATTY: You know, it's ironic with Gertrude. She went through so much in the war, she experienced so much discrimination from white nurses not wanting to -- when they -- they were helping her up a hill when they realized she was African American, they practically threw her down. Even the Pullman porter when she went to report at Fort Bragg discriminated against her, said -- you know, put her in the worst car, wouldn't let her eat in the restaurant of the train. But she still says it was the beginning of the best years of her life. She used the G.I. Bill to go on and buy a home, go back to college. And she's very, very proud of her service.

WHITFIELD: Wow, when you talk to modern day service men and women, black service men and women, do you get the sense they are conscientious of these trails that were blazed by people that we just described?

LATTY: Yes, I do. I think many of them realize that the sacrifice and the contribution of that generation, of the World War II generation and have continued on to take advantage of the doors were opened to them by these men and women.

WHITFIELD: And so now what? You know, how do you try and make sure that their stories -- you know, the legacy is passed on to the next generation?

LATTY: That's why I wrote "We Were There." And the interesting thing about "We Were There" is that it's just such -- such an incredible accessible book. It has photographs of what the veterans looked like when they served, photographs of what they look like now taken by a portrait photographer, Ron Tarver. And it's an accessible way of learning American history, because really, in these people's voices -- their voices tell us who we are as a people and who we are as a country. WHITFIELD: Well, I know they appreciate that you're sharing the story as do all the readers of "We Were There." Yvonne Latty in Philadelphia thanks very much for joining us this Saturday.

LATTY: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Smarty Jones is hoping good things come in threes. We'll go live to Elmont, New York for the early line on the Belmont Stakes.


WHITFIELD: Unbeaten Smarty Jones is trying to become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, today. Sports correspondent, Josie Burke, is in Elmont, New York for the Belmont Stakes.

Good to see you, Josie.

JOSIE BURKE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fredricka. Well, the day of racing has already started here at Belmont Park, there's a race under their belt, but everyone's looking forward to race No. 11, that's of course, the Belmont Stakes. And everyone is also keeping an eye on the weather. The forecast has called for some rain, but it probably won't matter to Smarty Jones. You go back to the Arkansas Derby, the Kentucky Derby, this horse has already won twice on a muddy track.


JOHN SERVIS, TRAINER: It looks like it could be real bad. You know, I hope we don't have to go through what we went through in Kentucky and -- you know, I was hoping for a dry fast track, and -- you know, for the people more than anything. But -- you know, he's -- my horse is a good horse and I think he will run on pretty much anything.


BURKE: Just in case Smarty Jones needed to get better acclimated to the water, he got a really good bath yesterday and afterwards his trainer, John Servis, said he already had his game face on and that's really saying a lot for a horse that doesn't really start to stand out until it's time to run.

STEWART ELLIOT, JOCKEY: Besides being talented, he has everything it takes. He has the heart, he has the desire to win, he loves what he does, and he's good at it.

SERVIS: He does not look like a super horse. But when you put that bridle on him and lead him to the paddock, he transforms into -- as my son would say, a beast. And you know, he just -- I don't know what it is that does that to him, but he just has a special something very special to him that turns him into a machine.

BURKE: A day like today is unique in all of sports because it's like the Super Bowl and World Series rolled up into one. This is what they're handing out to fans coming in and they expect more than 103,000 of them. They plan to set a record today. It says "Go Sarty, Go." You can use it as a fan, but it shows why this is so unique, Fredricka, because, you're going to have all these people here, and unlike the Super Bowl or the World Series, everyone's allegiance pretty much lies in the same place. Everybody wants to see history made, today. They want to see Smarty Jones become the first horse in 26 years to win the Triple Crown -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: He's got a lot of fans out there, indeed.

All right, thanks a lot, Josie.

Well, Smarty Jones' "Philadelphia Story," that's coming up at the end of the hour with CNN's Bruce Burkhart.

Also straight ahead, two soldiers on opposite sides during the Normandy invasion share their own views of D-Day 60 years down the road.

And later on, it may not be on your list of vacation spots, but perhaps Martha Vineyard's should. Why it may be just the place for you.


RICHARD BERNSTEIN, CHIEF U.S. QUANTITATIVE STRATEGIST: I think if you are talking about who impacts the global economies now, No. 1, you spell out the name Alan Greenspan. The other two, I think, are going to be kind of obvious in my mind, there would be George Bush and John Kerry. And whoever wins that contest will be very influential in the business markets, financial markets, geopolitics, everything else.

C.K. LEE, SPECIAL ADVISER TO THE CHAIRMAN: I would name a big bank CEO, which is kind of a generic candidate, but I think we have three financial institutions that are approaching $1 trillion in assets. I certainly think any list like this certainly has to include Alan Greenspan. As interest rates rise there are repercussions for households, for businesses, for banks, and he's the guy at the controls.



WHITFIELD: Bottom of the hour, now. Here are the latest developments. Ronald Reagan's health has reportedly worsened. The White House was told to be prepared because the former president's death could come soon. At 93 Reagan has lived longer than any other U.S. president. He has been out of the public eye for a decade since it was disclosed he suffers from Alzheimer's disease.

President Bush says Iraq is well on the way to democracy and freedom with the naming of a new interim government. He predicts, in his radio address today, that Iraq will hold national elections no later than January next year. Mr. Bush is using his trip to Europe to encourage more international support in Iraq. U.S. Forces faced another surprise attack in Baghdad. A roadside blast overturned a military vehicle killing one soldier. Three our troops were wounded in the ambush. That raises the U.S. death toll, in Iraq, to 826, more than 600 from combat alone.


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