PARIS — First lady Michelle Obama's spokeswoman got an urgent call Saturday morning, summoning her to the U.S. Embassy ahead of time. An aide told Katie McCormick Lelyveld that Obama's daughters were ready to leave and she had better hurry.
But instead of finding Malia and Sasha waiting for her, she saw her boyfriend and an engagement ring.
"I thought she was going to pass out," said Tommy Vietor, an assistant White House press secretary who handles State and Defense issues for President Barack Obama.
"I was shaking _ he completely surprised me," McCormick Lelyveld said. "I couldn't have picked a more perfect way for this to happen."
Vietor 28, took a late Friday afternoon flight from Washington, arrived in Paris at 6:30 a.m. local time, grabbed a taxi and quickly showered and changed into a suit at the U.S. Embassy.
The whole operation was executed under thick secrecy.
Alyssa Mastromonaco, who manages the White House road show, and Mrs. Obama's scheduler, Franny Starkey, were in on the plan.
The first lady's traveling aide, Kristen Jarvis, phoned McCormick Lelyveld, 30, and told her to hustle over to the embassy. Jarvis then led her to a room where she found Vietor, who didn't sleep on the seven-hour flight.
McCormick Lelyveld and Vietor met in 2004. She was working for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign; he was working for then-North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' rival campaign.
After Edwards lost the nomination to Kerry, McCormick Lelyveld interviewed Vietor for a Kerry campaign job he ultimately decided against taking. Instead, he went work as a deputy press secretary for a U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois: Barack Obama.
They started dating when Vietor returned to Washington.
Vietor says the couple hasn't decided when to marry _ nor have they spoken with the Obamas. He joked that the president and first lady were busy with ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France at Normandy.
When told of the proposal, President Obama told aides Vietor had pulled off a "smooth move."
Paris is a world capital that Obama says he would like nothing more than to take advantage of _ strolling down the banks of the Seine, going out for nice meals with his wife, Michelle, and having picnics in Luxembourg Gardens.
But unfortunately for him, just not while he is president.
"Those days are over, for the moment," Obama told a reporter in Caen who asked whether his brief visits to France and Germany, and lack of private activity in either country, meant Europe was not a priority for him.
"What it means is that I have a very tough schedule," he said. "When I take these foreign trips, it's to get business done."
Besides, dinner is overrated.
Obama said French President Nicolas Sarkozy a friend he can pick up the phone and chat with at anytime.
"At some point, I will be the ex-president and then you will find me in France, I'm sure, quite a bit, having fun," Obama said.
French media have speculated that Obama and his family, including his daughters, would have dinner atop the Eiffel Tower on Saturday night.
Obama scolded French journalists for "reading too much into my schedule."
He appeared similarly piqued a day earlier in Germany, where the media there watched intently for signs of tension in his relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In France, Obama noted that his country's unemployment rate has climbed to 9.4 percent, the highest in more than 25 years. He said he still has a lot of work to do turn around the U.S. economy.
"That all requires a lot of work, and so my travel schedule is always limited," he said.
Obama singled out a few veterans for special mention in his D-Day remarks at the American cemetery at Normandy's Omaha Beach.
The story of D-Day was told, he said, by men like Zane Schlemmer, of Kane'ohe in Obama's home state of Hawaii. On Saturday, Sarkozy pinned a French Legion of Honor medal to Schlemmer's chest. Obama said Schlemmer, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, "parachuted into a dark marsh, far from his objective and his men. Lost and alone, he still managed to fight his way through the gunfire and help liberate the town in which he landed."
Then there's Anthony Ruggiero, of Plymouth, Mass., an Army Ranger "who saw half the men on his landing craft drown when it was hit by shellfire just a thousand yards off this beach," Obama said. "He spent three hours in freezing water, and was one of only 90 Rangers to survive out of the 225 who were sent to scale the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc" and destroy the German cannons.
Obama also paid tribute to his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, who arrived in Normandy six weeks after D-Day, and his great-uncle, Charles Payne, a member of the first American division to reach and liberate a Nazi concentration camp.
Payne _ or "Uncle Charlie," as Obama calls him _ joined the ceremony at Normandy with a group that traveled with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Obama saw his uncle on the way into and out of the event.
Senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters later that Obama was thankful "for the opportunity to be with his uncle at this place, knowing that this opportunity may not come again." He said it was a "personally emotional time" for the president.
A pair of Americans with deep ties to the battle attended the commemoration.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 1996, got a nod from Obama as "a World War II veteran who returned home from this war to serve a proud and distinguished career as a United States senator and national leader."
Although not a veteran, the crowd included a descendant of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a significant figure in D-Day history. Obama noted "Susan Eisenhower, whose grandfather began this mission 65 years ago with a simple charge: 'OK, let's go.'"
Other notables present included former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, and actor Tom Hanks, star of the film, "Saving Private Ryan." Hanks played a World War II Army Ranger company commander in the 1998 film.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he is close to President Barack Obama. So close, in fact, that when talking about the Normandy beach where Allied forces invaded France, Brown mispronounced Omaha Beach's name.
"So intense was the cooperation between our nations was that when Winston Churchill regularly asked to see strategists who were planning D-Day, he never knew until they arrived at 10 Downing St. whether the officer would be British, Canadian or American," Brown said.
"And so next to Obama Beach, we join President Obama and pay particular tribute to the spectacular bravery of American soldiers who gave their lives on Omaha Beach for people whose names they never knew, for whose faces they never saw and yet people who have lived in freedom thanks to their sacrifice and valor."
Brown continued right past the flub. Obama did not react.
Associated Press writers Mark Smith in Omaha Beach and Scott Sayare in Paris, and Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.