COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Sailors assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) took their places alongside veterans and heads of state June 6, during a ceremony commemorating the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
United States President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Prince of Wales Charles P. A. George and more than 300 service members in attendance paid tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of about 160,000 Allied troops who landed on Normandy's coastline June 6, 1944, during the largest one-day amphibious assault ever recorded.
"Being there with those who stormed the beaches and listening to their testimonies, along with the speeches from the distinguished guests like President Obama, was truly an experience," said USS Porter Command Master Chief Ronald Locklear.
While the American, British, Canadian, French, Polish and Norwegian Allies suffered heavy casualties during the brutal World War II landings in Normandy, it was then that they established a stronghold that would eventually lead them to overcome Nazi Germany and rise to victory in the name of freedom.
"Friends and veterans, what we cannot forget what we must not forget is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century," said Obama. "At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found it within themselves to do the extraordinary."
Porter sailors listened to the brave veterans as they recounted their own personal stories of intense battle, grieving for comrades and victory. The sailors escorted many of them through the pristine rows of gravestones many of them all too familiar to the aging heroes at the hallowed site.
"It was an amazing opportunity to represent USS Porter, the U.S. Navy and my country by escorting the fine men who served before us," said Ship's Serviceman 1st Class Jeromy Long.
"This day is very important to remember, because their sacrifices continue to be a great inspiration to the modern-day men and women of the armed forces."
The crew members of "Freedom's Champion" also participated in a similar commemorative ceremony at Utah Beach June 5. For many, the solemn affairs marked some of their most memorable experiences to date.
"It was truly an honor to be a part of these historic events, and I know the crew will not soon forget their involvement," said Cmdr. Mike Feyedelem, commanding officer on board Porter. "The D-Day celebration was like a living, breathing history lesson. The stories we heard from members of the greatest generation were amazing, and it was an honor to share their recollections with them at this historic site."