World leaders, veterans mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in France

This year’s commemoration of the key turning point in WWII carries special resonance with war still raging in Ukraine.

Britain's King Charles, right, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a ceremony in Normandy [Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP]

Veterans and world leaders have gathered in Normandy, France, to mark the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings, when more than 150,000 Allied soldiers arrived in the country by sea and air to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany.

With war raging in Ukraine, this year’s commemoration of this key turning point in World War II carries special resonance. Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, was not invited.

“This event and day serve as a reminder of the courage and determination demonstrated in the pursuit of freedom and democracy,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a post on X, announcing his arrival to Thursday’s ceremonies in France.

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“Allies defended Europe’s freedom then, and Ukrainians do so now. Unity prevailed then, and true unity can prevail today,” he added.

US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron,  German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Britain’s King Charles and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and many other political figures are taking part in the day of tributes, which started at about 08:30 GMT with a British ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer.

Onlookers watch a DUKW amphibious truck drive on the beach at Arromanches-les-Bains, northwestern France [Ludovic Marin/AFP]
In Arromanches-les-Bains, one of the beaches where Allied troops came ashore 80 years ago, small crowds filtered onto the beach as the tide withdrew on Thursday morning.

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They were joined by a collection of second world war Jeeps. Later, an amphibious vehicle came ashore, carrying a bagpiper blasting a sombre tune.

With the number of veterans, many aged 100 or more, fast dwindling, this is likely to be the last significant ceremony in Normandy honouring them in their presence.

About 200 veterans, most of them American or British, are set to take part in ceremonies throughout the day on windswept beaches that still bear the scars of the fighting that erupted on D-Day, history’s largest amphibious invasion, in which thousands of Allied soldiers died.

Among those who will take part is 101-year-old Bob Gibson, who was in the second wave of soldiers to land on Normandy’s Utah Beach.

“It’s like it happened yesterday. You wouldn’t believe what I have seen. Terrible. Some of the young fellows never reached the major beach … sometimes it wakes you up at night,” he told the Reuters news agency.

Bob Gibson, who was landed on June 6, 1944, attends a D-Day ceremony in 2022 in Saint-Gatien-des-Bois, northwestern France [File: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP]
Leading commemorations in Ver-sur-Mer, King Charles said that while the number of living veterans was dwindling, “our obligation to remember what they stood for and what they achieved for us all can never diminish”.

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Speaking in English and in French, he paid tribute to the “unimaginable number” of French civilians killed in the battle for Normandy, and the bravery and sacrifice of the French Resistance.

“Let us pray such sacrifice need never be made again,” he said. “Our gratitude is unfailing, and our admiration eternal.”

Taking a break from campaigning for Britain’s July 4 election, Sunak paid tribute to veterans, saying their “actions freed a continent and built a better world”.

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“You risked everything and we owe you everything,” he said. “We cannot possibly hope to repay that debt but we can and we must pledge never to forget.”

At the British ceremony, veterans were applauded as they filed into the event to take their seats, which were decorated with bright red poppies.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets Richard Rohmer, 100, one of the most decorated Canadian veterans, at Juno Beach in France’s Courseulles-sur-Mer. [Jordan Pettitt/Pool via Reuters]
At a Canadian ceremony on Juno Beach in nearby Courseulles-Sur-Mer, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the world must continue to stand up for democracy.

“Democracy is still under threat today. It is threatened by aggressors who want to redraw borders,” he said. “Our way of life did not happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort.”

With war also raging in the Middle East and elsewhere, some of the visitors wished for peace, as they paid their tribute to fallen soldiers at the US cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.

“It’s very moving to see that so many young men are buried here,” said 66-year-old Brigitte Perdrix, from the nearby city of Trouville.

“A tribute to them would be for the atrocities and wars ongoing now to stop. It would be like a rose placed on each grave.”

Source: Reuters

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