COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France - U.S. President Barack Obama paid homage to the heroes of D-Day on Saturday, saying their assault on Normandy's beaches exactly 65 years ago had helped save the world from evil and tyranny.
Addressing stooped, white-haired veterans, Obama said the Second World War represented a special moment in history when nations fought together to battle a murderous ideology.
We live in a world of competing beliefs and claims about what is true, Obama said. In such a world, it is rare for a struggle to emerge that speaks to something universal about humanity. The Second World War did that.
His visit to Normandy came at the end of a rapid tour through Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany and France, where Obama has tried to reach out to the Muslim world and press for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking in a giant U.S. military cemetery at Colleville, where 9,387 American soldiers lie, Obama said the war against Nazi Germany laid the way for years of peace and prosperity.
It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the twentieth century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide, he said.
The Colleville cemetery, with its rows of white crosses and stars of David, overlooks the Omaha Beach landing where U.S. forces on June 6, 1944, suffered their greatest casualties in the assault against heavily fortified German defenses.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined Obama at Saturday's ceremony held under bright skies -- a stark contrast to the winds and rain that marked D-Day.
Obama has been seeking to repair ties with France and other European states who were alienated by his predecessor George W. Bush's go-it-alone diplomacy, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and his policies on climate change.
Earlier on Saturday he held talks with Sarkozy, where the two said they were determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Obama also promised an uncompromising stance against North Korea, which tested a nuclear bomb last month.
In his speech, Obama said D-Day showed that human destiny was not determined by forces beyond its control but by individual choices and joint action.
On a more personal note, he also saluted his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived in Normandy a month after D-Day, and also his great uncle, Charles Payne, who was in the first American division during the war and was present on Saturday.
No man who shed blood or lost a brother would say that war is good. But all know that this war was essential, he said.
It has become a tradition for American presidents to visit Normandy. Ronald Reagan went to the D-Day beaches the 40th anniversary in 1984, Bill Clinton was there 10 years later and George W. Bush was there in both 2002 and in 2004.
I am not the first American president to come and mark this anniversary, and I likely will not be the last, he said.