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World leaders, veterans commemorate D-Day's 80th anniversary in Normandy

With war raging in Ukraine, on Europe's borders, this year's commemoration of this major turning point in World War Two will carry special resonance.
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 11:32 IST
Last Updated : 06 June 2024, 11:32 IST

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

With war raging in Ukraine, on Europe's borders, this year's commemoration of this major turning point in World War II will carry special resonance.

The anniversary takes place in a year of many elections, including for the European Parliament this week and in the US in November. Leaders are set to draw parallels with World War II and warn of the dangers of isolationism and the far-right.

"Democracy is literally on the ballot this year", US President Joe Biden said before traveling to France, saying sacrifices from D-Day must not be given up.

As the sun rose 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. Under glorious blue skies, they were joined by a collection of second World War jeeps. Later, an amphibious vehicle came ashore carrying a bagpiper blasting a somber tune.

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

Some 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 Reuters.

Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Britain's King Charles, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many others will take part in the day of tributes, set to start at around 0830 GMT with a British ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer.

But Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, touching off Europe's biggest armed conflict since World War II, was not invited.

"Ukraine needs the support from the Europeans and the allies like France and the other European states needed it to defeat Nazism", a European diplomat said, stressing it was important Zelenskiy will be there.

"From all those that are present in Normandy today, only Zelenskiy and the few veterans still alive know what war really is", the diplomat added.

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

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."

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Published 06 June 2024, 11:32 IST

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