The official background from the White House on the Saturday visit of President Obama and First Lady Michelle to Normandy to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day and a lively briefing from my French spy on duty in France........
official: The President and Mrs. Obama, Prime Minister Brown and Mrs. Brown , Prime Minister Harper and Mrs. Harper and President Sarkozy and Mrs. Sarkozy and will stop at the Visitors Center and the Overlook at Colleville before the official ceremony at the Cemetery begins. At both stops, the President will meet with United States D-Day veterans who will provide their perspectives on D-Day.
My French spy report 2:
Marine 1 landed in Caen at 12 (6 your time). Michelle's all dressed in white as is Carla. The crowd was chanting "Obama, Obama" (didn't hear one "Sarkozy"). After shaking a few hands and listening to both anthems, BO and Sarko retired for a 15-minute tete-a-tete and then lunch with spouses + Bernard Kouchner (foreign minister), etc. Sarkozy's sons were present (and BO chatted with the youngest).
Meanwhile, at Bayeux, Prince Charles was attending a ceremony to the memory of British soldiers buried in Normandy (more than twice as many as Americans, by the way) in the company of French PM François Fillon (with whom he will have lunch before joining the others at Coleville) -- which allows the French Embassy in DC to claim that the "incident" concening the Queen has been resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned (?!?)
15 minutes isn't much, so everybody's guessing what the prez will talk about. Middle East, of course, but more probably the Iranians, as Sarko has just had talks with their Foreign minister.
The Cairo speech has been well received here, but many commentators point to the part where BO mentioned the Islamic veil as a slight to the French (always touchy, as you know). Apparently, the Os turned down an invitation to a private dinner with the Sarkos at the Elysee. More generally, there's been grumbling here about the fact that BO's moves are announced at the last minute. "We can't make any plans in advance," an Elysee press spokesperson complained.
Sunny but windy in Coleville. Drizzly in Paris.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY
June 6, 2009
BACKGROUND ON THE PRESIDENT AND MRS. OBAMA'S VISIT TO NORMANDY
The President and Mrs. Obama, Prime Minister Brown and Mrs. Brown , Prime Minister Harper and Mrs. Harper and President Sarkozy and Mrs. Sarkozy and will stop at the Visitors Center and the Overlook at Colleville before the official ceremony at the Cemetery begins. At both stops, the President will meet with United States D-Day veterans who will provide their perspectives on D-Day.
During the ceremony, President Sarkozy will award Zane Schlemmer, a United States veteran, with the Legion of Honor for his part in D-Day. The President will mention him as well as three other D-Day veterans during his remarks.
Secretary Shinseki will travel with approximately forty D-Day veterans by train to Normandy to attend the ceremony. This group includes the Band of Brothers (Easy Company - 101st Airborne).
VETERANS AT VISITORS CENTER
ARDEN EARLL (Erie, Pennsylvania)
Arden Earll was part of the first wave onto Omaha Beach. Earll was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division that took a section of Omaha Beach under extremely heavy fire. The 29th Infantry Division continued to fight their way through France after D-Day. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery.
For his extraordinary courage in helping to liberate France, he has been nominated to receive the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
JAMES K. KUNKLE (San Ynez, California)
Lieutenant James K. Kunkle, P-38 and P-51 Fighter Pilot, joined the 401st Fighter Squadron, 370th Group of the 9th Air Force and carried out 36 combat missions in support of the Normandy Landing operations and bombing missions in Germany and the Ardennes.
After taking off from Roye/ Amy, 42 km southeast of Amiens on September 16 1944, he was attacked near Aachen in Germany, after having attacked two enemy aircraft in order to protect the formation in which he was flying. He was badly burned but was able to open his parachute and was rescued by soldiers from the US Army's 1st Division. He was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross. He is credited with shootin down five enemy aircraft.
Lieutenant James K. Kunkle has been nominated to receive rank of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
ANTONIO RUGGIERO (Plymouth, Massachusetts)
Sergeant Antonio Ruggiero was a member of the famous 2nd Ranger Battalion and is one of the outstanding soldiers who shortly after landing on Omaha Beach, climbed the Pointe du Hoc to destroy the German canons.
Today, he is one of the few survivors of this celebrated episode of the Normandy landings.
For his extraordinary courage in helping to liberate France, he received the highest U.S. awards (Purple Heart, Bronze Star). He has been nominated to receive the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
LOUIS J. VENDITTI (Chicago, Illinois)
Louis J. Venditti enlisted at age twenty and in November 1942 was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division--the legendary "Screaming Eagles"--as a paratrooper. Between June 6, 1944, and October 28, 1945, he took part in landing operations, notably in preparation for the D-Day invasion, and in the battles of Normandy, the Ardennes, the Rhine and Central Europe. Mr. Venditti was wounded in Holland on October 6, 1945. He was treated at the 92nd General Hospital before rejoining the fighting in the Ardennes.
The United States government awarded him with the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the EAME Theater Ribbon with four Bronze Battle Stars and two Bronze Arrowheads, a Good Conduct Medal, a Purple Heart and a Victory Medal.
Mr. Venditti has also been named Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
VETERANS AT OVERLOOK
CLYDE COMBS (Houston, Texas)
Clyde Combs took part in the June 6, 1944 landings aboard PT 515, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 35. PT 515 was part of the defense system on the western flank of the maritime bridge between England and Normandy and was located 500 meters off of Utah Beach. PT 515 remained in these waters until Cherbourg was liberated by General Patton. PT 515 then joined the advanced base of PT Boats that were patrolling between the Channel Islands and Le Havre. The ship was attacked by enemy convoys and even sustained damage.
Quartermaster Clyde Combs personally contributed to the Allied advance on June 6, 1944. He was aboard PT 515 which helped to protect the naval armada which slowly crossed from the British coast to Normandy. Clyde Combs has been nominated to receive the rank of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Benjamin Franklin, Private First Class in the 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, took part in the liberation of France. He joined the army at the age of sixteen after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
On June 6, 1944, he took part in the Normandy Landings where he fought on Omaha Beach.
Benjamin Franklin and the men of his unit took part in the fighting for more than three months, from Normandy to Alsace. They liberated towns such as Colleville, Caument, St-Lô and Soissons.
Benjamin Franklin was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart Medals for his bravery, as well as the "Fourragère de la médaille militaire française" on July 27, 1946.
For his contribution to the liberation of France during the Second World War, Benjamin Franklin has been nominated to receive the rank of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
VETERAN AT LOH AT COLLEVILLE
ZANE SCHLEMMER (Kane'ohe, Hawaii)
Zane Schlemmer enlisted in the United States Army in October 1942, joining the now legendary 82nd Airborne Division. After the fierce battle for Italy, the 82nd Airborne was recalled to Britain ahead of the D-Day Landing. During the night of June 5-6, 1944, Mr. Schlemmer parachuted into the marshes of Carentan, took part in the Battle of Normandy and was wounded in the arm on Hill 131. Subsequently, he took part, with his regiment, in Operation Market Garden in Holland where he was dropped on September 17, 1944. He then fought in the Battle of the Ardennes, beginning on December 19, where he was wounded again, this time in the leg. In the Sprin of 1945, he was assigned to a Rapid Action unit in the Chartres region to assist troops and prisoners in Germany. Owing to his service, he was then assigned to the honor guard of General Dwight Eisenhower until October 1945.
For his contributions to the liberation of France during World War II, Mr. Schlemmer has been nominated to receive the rank of Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.