The Navy invited Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks aboard the USS Normandy Thursday to bestow its highest civilian honor for their work on Saving Private Ryan.
The film about World War II "dramatically increased the American public's awareness and appreciation of the sacrifices made by U.S. veterans during the Battle of Normandy," the Navy said in a statement.
The Normandy ship was named for the bloody battle in which allied forces landed in France to begin advancing on Germany. The landing at Normandy is the movie's opening scene.
"That invasion saved the world. If you saw Private Ryan, you know how many people paid the price," Navy Undersecretary Jerry Hultin said before he presented the director and actor the Distinguished Public Service Award on Veterans Day.
Hultin said the public too often forgets its war veterans.
"I think it's become almost an unfortunate tradition in this country to recruit them, put them to war, work them hard, and then, when they come home, to sort of say, 'Well, it's over,"' he said.
Saving Private Ryan, a graphic re-enactment of the Allies' invasion of Europe on D-Day - June 6, 1944 - won five Academy Awards, including one for Spielberg's direction.
|Defense Secretary William Cohen gave Spielberg the Medal for Distinguished Public Service last year.|
Spielberg's father was a crew member in B-25 bombers in the war.
Hanks, who is active in the campaign to create a World War II memorial in Washington, said he is impressed by how soldiers and sailors in their late teens and early 20s are willing to risk their lives for their countries.
"When I was 23, I was just trying to get to my junior college class," said Hanks, whose father was a Navy machinist.
Last August, Defense Secretary William Cohen presented Spielberg with the military's highest civilian honor - the Medal for Distinguished Public Service - at a ceremony in the Pentagon.