Bush Adviser Visits Normandy Cemetery
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COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) _ Tears welling in her eyes, Karen Hughes pointed to a spot beyond the rows of white crosses at Normandy American Cemetery to Omaha Beach, and spoke of her father. ``He came ashore right over there,″ she said.
President Bush’s counselor, one of the most influential female White House advisers ever, had just called her father, retired Gen. Harold Parfitt _ waking him up at 6 a.m. Texas time _ to tell him she was with the president in Normandy 58 years after his landing on D-Day during World War II.
Parfitt, 80, told her he was proud of her. Then he gave her some details of his role in the Normandy invasion, some of which she had never heard before.
``Like many people of his generation _ my Dad fought three wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam _ he did not talk a great deal about the war,″ Hughes said. ``But I figured he would want me to get his story right before I talked about it. So I gave him a call.″
In between the American national anthem and the playing of taps at a Memorial Day ceremony here, Hughes read from a spiral notebook the information her father had given her moments earlier.
Parfitt was a 23-year-old lieutenant when he came ashore with the 147th Engineer combat battalion June 6, 1944.
Separated from his unit, he fought his way along the beach to hook up with his colleagues near Pointe Du Hoc _ site of the famous U.S. Rangers assault of Normandy’s steep cliffs _ and keep German forces from outflanking the U.S. assault.
She fought back tears as Bush walked away from a somber wreath-laying ceremony.
``It’s such an honor to be here on Memorial Day, especially when America is once against fighting for freedom,″ said Hughes, 45, who plans to leave the White House this summer and return to Texas.
Parfitt, who retired from the military in 1979, said he was hit be shrapnel in the assault and hurt his thumb so badly it still doesn’t work quite right.
``My thumb was hanging by a thread, but other than being stunned, I was very fortunate,″ he said in a telephone interview from his Dallas home. He found a medic who wrapped up the thumb and allowed him to catch up with his unit. He fought the rest of the day.
On the second day, he again sought out a medic, this time to change the dressing. ``But they said that wasn’t going to happen. They put a tag on me and sent me back to England to get operated on,″ he said.
Parfitt was back in France in August, and served out the war as a company commander.
He said he was glad his daughter woke him up.
``It’s quite fantastic. I’m very proud of her,″ he said. ``I love her.″
Schoolchildren and French war veterans wearing their medals dominated a crowd of only a few hundred people near the church in Sainte-Mere-Eglise where Bush and French President Jacques Chirac attended a service Monday.
``I came here to show my sympathies to Bush, for all that is happening because of Sept. 11,″ said Henry Heronot, 67, who fought in the war in Algeria and remembers well the day that Allied troops landed in Normandy. He was 11 at the time.
Nurse Marie-Claude Jamet, who stood alone in the half-empty square, speculated that the rainy weather had kept some people away, ``but mostly I think we’re pretty realistic about Bush. We don’t like him much.″ She criticized what she called Bush’s go-it-alone foreign policy and his enthusiasm for the death penalty.
Renee Levavasseur, who was 9 years old when the Americans liberated Sainte-Mere-Eglise, watched from a balcony window.
``As for Bush, I’d say ’moyen, moyen, moyen,‴ he said, using a French word that means ``average.″ ``But we’re not here for that. We still are grateful to the Americans, and it’s Memorial Day.″
Security was tight but fairly discreet at Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Riot troops in buses were tucked away on side streets while polite gendarmes with metal detectors checked everyone who approached the church square.
Bush and Chirac arrived behind the church to the thwack-thwack of large green transport helicopters.
The schoolchildren, who were brought to the square directly from classes, seemed to be as fascinated by the choppers as they were by Bush and Chirac.
``I’m here because my parents thought it was a good idea I come and see the American president,″ said Ludovine Griffon, 13.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ AP Special Correspondent Mort Rosenblum contributed to this story.