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50 YEARS LATER, TV CARRIES D-DAY REMINDERS, LESSONS

SHARE 50 YEARS LATER, TV CARRIES D-DAY REMINDERS, LESSONS

There were military bands, honor guards, jet planes and dignitaries. Upstaging them all were scores of weathered faces that helped provide a history lesson to those who had forgotten the cost of freedom.

TV brought the D-Day anniversary ceremonies to millions this week from Normandy, France, giving them a look, 50 years later, at an aging group whom President Clinton called "the men who saved the world."One of those men, veteran Walter Ehlers, observed during the ceremonies, "Many of those who enjoy freedom now know little of its price."

Covered by ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN, the observance capped television's D-Day focus that began several weeks ago and intensified in the past few days.

From C-SPAN to Discovery to the American Movie Classics channel, the events of June 6, 1944, were brought to life by documentaries, dramas, expanded news coverage and even a telephone company commercial with a D-Day theme.

Monday's coverage started in the wee hours on CNN and NBC, and stretched into the evening with ABC's "Day One" and "Nightline" and specials on CBS and PBS.

"You couldn't see the English Channel for all the ships," marveled ABC's Peter Jennings, "and you couldn't see the sky for all the aircraft."

Another newsman, Walter Cronkite, had seen it for himself. Before his CBS News reign, he covered the Normandy beachhead assault for United Press.

Cronkite remembered that day with dread: "I felt terribly alone in spite of the crowd of men I was in the middle of."

A man who would become Cronkite's colleague was a soldier in the struggle.

"If you think the whole world is selfish and rotten," Andy Rooney told CBS viewers, his voice cracking with emotion, "come to the cemetery at Colleville overlooking the beaches where 9,386 Americans lie. See what one group of men did for another."

TV showed that cemetery in Normandy, and much more. But it was the survivors - and the elderly faces that are so often overlooked by television - that brought the moment home.

"I've been taping since 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon," a caller from Duluth, Minn., said during Monday's "Larry King Live" on CNN. "You read in history books, but it doesn't compare to seeing these men cry and retell their stories."

Sometimes tearful, sometimes defiant and always proud, the veterans' timeworn faces spoke with unmatched eloquence on the TV screen - even if they never said a word.