Reagan set the tone for D-Day observances

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FILE – This June 6, 1984 file photo shows President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan walking past the graves at Normandy American Cemetary in Normandy. The American president and first lady are attending the 40th anniversary of the allied invasion of 1944. President Barack Obama is the fourth sitting president to attend a D-Day anniversary observance in Normandy and the only president to visit the site of the allied invasion twice during his presidency for an anniversary commemoration. It wasn’t always a presidential tradition. Ronald Reagan was the first, delivering an evocative and emotional remembrance on the 40th anniversary in 1984. Joining him were surviving members of an Army Rangers team that had scaled cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to silence German guns protecting the Normandy beaches. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

FILE – This June 6, 1984 file photo shows President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan walking past the graves at Normandy American Cemetary in Normandy. The American president and first lady are attending the 40th anniversary of the allied invasion of 1944. President Barack Obama is the fourth sitting president to attend a D-Day anniversary observance in Normandy and the only president to visit the site of the allied invasion twice during his presidency for an anniversary commemoration. It wasn’t always a presidential tradition. Ronald Reagan was the first, delivering an evocative and emotional remembrance on the 40th anniversary in 1984. Joining him were surviving members of an Army Rangers team that had scaled cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to silence German guns protecting the Normandy beaches. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is the fourth sitting president to attend a D-Day anniversary observance in Normandy and the only president to visit the site of the allied invasion twice during his presidency for an anniversary commemoration. It wasn’t always a presidential tradition.

Ronald Reagan was the first, delivering an evocative and emotional remembrance on the 40th anniversary in 1984. Joining him were surviving members of an Army Rangers team that had scaled cliffs at Pointe du Hoc to silence German guns protecting the Normandy beaches.

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc,” Reagan said. “These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

Before him, presidents acknowledged the D-Day invasion with words or statements, but none made a pilgrimage to the site, not even Dwight Eisenhower, who had been the supreme allied commander who ordered the invasion.

Here is a sampling of how presidents observed the key D-Day anniversaries.

DWIGHT EISENHOWER, 10th anniversary, 1954

Issued a statement that reflected the Cold War chasm of the day: “We see peoples, once bitter enemies, burying their antagonisms and joining together to meet the problems of the postwar world. If all those nations which were members of the Grand Alliance have not maintained in time of peace the spirit of that wartime union, if some of the peoples who were our comrades-in-arms have been kept apart from us, that is cause for profound regret, but not for despair.”

Eisenhower did go to Normandy after his presidency, for the 20th anniversary observance.

LYNDON JOHNSON, 20th anniversary, 1964

Johnson, in Washington pushing for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, delivered remarks to members of a D-Day delegation, headed by Gen. Omar Bradley: “Your country remembers and will never forget, the resolve born on that D-Day, that, so long as we are able, and other men are willing to stand together, we shall not permit the light of freedom to be extinguished on any continent again. … So let all the world know that when this nation has stood 2,000 years we shall not have forgotten the lands where our sons lie buried, nor the cause for which our sons died. Where we have commitments to the cause of freedom, we shall honor them — today, tomorrow and always.”

RICHARD NIXON, 30th anniversary, 1974

Nixon, in the throes of the Watergate investigation and with impeachment hearings underway, sent Gen. Bradley once again to the ceremonies. Five years earlier, Nixon had issued a proclamation on the 25th anniversary calling the Normandy assault “a historical landmark in the history of freedom.” He also met at the White House with former war correspondents who were on their way to France for the 25th anniversary observance.

RONALD REAGAN, 40TH anniversary, 1984

Reagan spoke at the top of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, the Atlantic Ocean spread behind him and with 62 gray-haired surviving Rangers seated before him.

“They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.

“Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.”

BILL CLINTON, 50th anniversary, 1994

Clinton attended the 50th anniversary, delivering his remarks at the U.S. Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. His comments offer an ironic reference point to the Europe that Obama faces as he arrives in Normandy on Friday.

“Fifty years later, what a different world we live in. Germany, Japan and Italy, liberated by our victory, now stand among our closest allies and the staunchest defenders of freedom. Russia, decimated during the war and frozen afterward in communism and cold war, has been reborn in democracy. And as freedom rings from Prague to Kiev, the liberation of this continent is nearly complete. Now the question

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