Donald Trump delivered an unusually respectful address in France to mark the anniversary of D-Day in which he managed to set aside “America First” rhetoric and threats to break up NATO and instead lauded America’s “cherished alliance” with its World War II partners.
In the third stop of his European tour, Trump arrived in France from Ireland Thursday morning to attend the D-Day commemorations and rekindle his love-hate relationship with French President Emmanuel Macron.
It’s 75 years to the day that American, British, and Canadian troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi occupation. The D-Day landings remain the largest seaborne invasion ever undertaken and, although the operation was ultimately successful, thousands of troops were killed and buried there.
World leaders have been joined by a few dozen remaining survivors from the invasion for a series of commemorative events being held in Normandy over this week. Trump and Macron met Thursday morning at the American war cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach.
It was the first time Macron and Trump have met in France since the World War I armistice commemorations in Paris last November, where the two fell out over Macron’s speech, which attacked the “betrayal” of nationalism. However, this time, the leaders managed to present a united front and both spoke about the great bond between their two countries.
After the presidents greeted and saluted D-Day veterans, now all either in their nineties or over 100, Macron gave an emotional address praising the “incredible courage and generosity” of the fallen and surviving veterans, telling them that “France has not forgotten” their sacrifices. “I bow down to our veterans and I say thank you,” said the French president.
Turning to Trump, Macron he hoped Thursday’s ceremony would “renew the friendship” between France and the U.S.
“We know what we owe to the United States of America. The United States of America is never greater than when it is fighting for the freedom of others,” Macron continued. “The United States of America is never greater than when it shows its loyalty to the universal values that the Founding Fathers defended, when nearly two and a half centuries ago France came to support its independence.”
After medals were presented to U.S. veterans by both presidents, it was Trump’s turn to speak at a scene he called “freedom’s altar.” He told the veterans they were “among the greatest Americans who will ever live” and praised the British, Canadian, Polish, French, Norwegian, and Australian troops who fought alongside them on that historic day.
“On this day 75 years ago, 10,000 men shed their blood and thousands sacrificed their lives for their brothers, for their countries and for the survival of liberty,” said a notably solemn Trump. “Today we remember those who fell and we honor all who fought right here in Normandy. They won back this ground for civilization.”
Trump went on to single out individual veterans who made it to Thursday’s event, including Arnold Raymond “Ray” Lambert, 98, who survived the landing on Omaha Beach in 1944. Lambert was wounded on the beach but, in his role as a medic, fought to save fellow soldiers from enemy fire.
Trump also praised George Taylor, part of the 16th Infantry Regiment in the first wave of attack, and recounted the story of when Taylor was asked what would happen if the Germany troops stopped them. “The great American replied: ‘The 18th Infantry is coming in behind. The 26th Infantry will come on, too. Then there is the 2nd Infantry Division already afloat. And the 9th Division and the 3rd Armored and all the rest. Maybe the 16th won’t make it but someone will.’”
Turning to the modern day, Trump was unusually romantic about the bonds between America and its allies. The words would be standard for any other American president over the past 75 years, but coming from one who puts “American first” and has threatened to break up NATO because he felt his allies weren’t spending enough on defense, it was a notable departure.
“To all of our friends and partners, our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle,” said Trump. “Tested in the trials of war and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable. From across the earth, Americans are drawn to this place as though it were a part of our very soul.”
There was time for some American exceptionalism, however. Trump ended his speech by praising America’s “exceptional might” and asserting that, under his presidency, “America is stronger than ever before.”
“[American troops] were sustained by the confidence that America can do anything,” he said. “Because we are a noble nation, with a virtuous people praying to a righteous God. The exceptional might came from a truly exceptional spirit. The abundance of courage came from an abundance of faith. The great deeds of an army came from the great depths of their love.”
Trump and Macron then departed together to watch a military fly-by—their relationship and that of their two countries on solid ground, for now.