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June 6, 2014

President Reagan set the tone for D-Day observances

WASHINGTON — 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 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.

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 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.”

· 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: “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.”

· Richard Nixon, 30th anniversary, 1974: Nixon sent Gen. Omar Bradley 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.

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