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In Rain and Wind, Clinton Honors Airmen of D-Day

June 4, 1994

CAMBRIDGE, England (AP) _ To the strains of Glenn Miller music and the propeller roar of vintage warplanes, President Clinton and Prime Minister John Major paid tribute Saturday to the lost airmen of World War II.

Clinton called them airborne knights; Major said England will never forget the courage of the Americans who came as protectors and liberators.

″After looking down in sorrow at those who paid the ultimate price, let us lift our eyes to the skies in which they flew, the ones they once commanded,″ Clinton said at the American Cemetery. ″And let us send to them a signal, a signal of our own, a signal that we do remember, that we do honor, and that we shall always carry on the work of these knights borne on wings.″

American and British flags flew at half staff above the rows of white markers at the graves of 3,812 U.S. war dead, and the memorial wall bearing the names of 5,126 missing.

Inscribed there is the name of Maj. Alton Glenn Miller, the bandleader whose flight vanished as he flew toward a 1944 Christmas concert in France. An Air Force band played his arrangements; his theme, ″Moonlight Serenade,″ was part of the ceremony.

There, too, the name of Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., eldest of the brothers, lost on a secret bombing mission, ″a young man for whom a distinguished political career was predicted,″ Clinton said.

England was the second stop of Clinton’s three-nation trip to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France.

Umbrellas opened, closed, opened again in the crowd of several thousand veterans, servicemen and guests on folding chairs on the cemetery’s damp lawn. The rain was intermittent, the nostalgia was not.

″America gave to England an infusion of arms and men and material,″ Clinton said. ″The British gave our troops the feeling that they were not so far from home after all.

″The British gave us inspiration; the Americans gave in return hope.″

After conferring with Major on world trouble spots and economic issues at the prime minister’s country home at Chequers, Clinton met briefly with Margaret Beckett, the leader of the Labor opposition, at Hartwell House, a mansion hotel nearby.

Then he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton flew by Marine helicopter through the clouds and rain to Portsmouth, to join a dozen other heads of state at a formal D-Day dinner, with Queen Elizabeth II the hostess. By the time he got there, rain was blowing in sheets, a chill reminder of the conditions that threatened the great invasion a half century ago.

On Sunday, Clinton will board the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to cross the English Channel to Normandy, to join leaders of the World War II allies in commemorating the anniversary of the invasion that led to the fall of Nazi Germany.

The Saturday weather was foul at Portsmouth and across the channel, with pounding rain and winds. The rain swept the steps at the Portsmouth Guildhall as leaders in tuxedos and women in formal gowns made their way in, under wind- blown umbrellas.

Then, near dusk, the storm blew out and the sky cleared, although the chill wind kept blowing.

It was a reminder of conditions a half century ago, when Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower delayed the invasion a day because of foul weather, launching it when his forecasters said there would be a day’s break in the storminess.

″It would have been historically incorrect to have good weather,″ Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said at a royal garden party in wind-blown tents at Portsmouth.

At Cambridge, the rain let up just as Clinton spoke, and Mrs. Clinton took down the umbrella.

Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, a wartime bomber pilot, recalled the air war and a time when ″boys grew into men too fast.″

″Numbing fatigue. Faceless danger. Fiery death. These were an airman’s constant companions,″ Bentsen said. ″In the face of this, these men not only flew and fought, they soared and triumphed.″

Major recalled a time when every 30th person in England was an American sent to wage the war.

A B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, a P-51 Mustang fighter and a British Spitfire roared over at low altitude, circled and came over again as Clinton shook hands with the veterans after the ceremony.

Clinton flew from Rome to Mildenhall Royal Air Force Base, where Major was waiting to thank him for the role of the Americans who fought from Britain 50 years ago.

″Their courage will never be forgotten in this country by those they helped to protect and helped to liberate, ″ Major told Clinton.

At Chequers, over a luncheon of lamb, Clinton and Major discussed the war in Bosnia and North Korea’s refusal to open up to nuclear inspections.

Clinton, at a brief joint news conference, said he wants to use sanctions, not saber-rattling to prod North Korea to permit open inspections.

He rejected North Korea’s claim that sanctions would be an act of war.

″Clearly, any sanctions are not an act of war and should not be seen as such,″ the president said. ″All we want them to do is keep their word.″

He said that American military forces are standing by in South Korea, ″prepared to do our job.″ And yet, he said, ″I do not want a lot of saber-rattling over this or war talk. This is peace talk.″

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