British veterans and other participants attend a French-British D-Day commemoration ceremony at the British War Cemetery in Bayeux, France, Friday. World leaders and veterans gathered by the beaches of Normandy on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s D-Day landings.
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — It was a day of pride, remembrance and honors for those who waded through blood-tinged waves, climbed razor-sharp cliffs or fell from the skies, staring down death or dying in an invasion that portended the fall of the Third Reich and the end of World War II.
It was also a day of high diplomacy for a Europe not completely at peace.
After 70 years, a dwindling number of veterans, civilian survivors of the brutal battle for Normandy, and 19 world leaders and monarchs celebrated on Friday the sacrifices of D-Day, an assault never matched for its size, planning and derring-do.
The events spread across the beaches and lush farmlands of Normandy, in western France, had an added sense of urgency this year: It would be the last grand commemoration for many of the veterans, whether they relived the anniversary at home in silence or were among the some 1,000 who crossed continents to be present despite their frail age.
For President Barack Obama, transmitting the memory of their “longest day” means keeping intact the values that veterans fought and died for.
“When the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory — we helped Europe rebuild,” Obama said in a speech at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It is the site where 9,387 fallen soldiers rest under white marble tombstones on a bluff above Omaha Beach, the bloodiest among five beach landings by U.S. and British troops.
“This was democracy’s beachhead,” he said, assuring veterans that “your legacy is in good hands.”
F-15 jets flew over the cemetery in missing-man formation, a 21 gun salute boomed and taps sounded.
The day of gratitude drew royals including Queen Elizabeth II of England, who dined at the French presidential palace in the evening, and the king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, as well as political leaders from across Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also joined in, along with a small group of German soldiers, as a sign of European unity.
Both symbolism and pragmatism were on French President Francois Hollande’s agenda. With an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been elbowed out of G-7 talks a day earlier, the ceremonies also became a moment to try to deflate the tense situation in Ukraine. The West fears the ongoing fighting there could fan a new Cold War with Moscow, which has annexed the eastern Ukraine region of Crimea.
Hollande’s invitation to Ukraine’s president-elect gave impetus to a diplomatic ballet of meetings behind the scenes.
Putin, who was present as a tribute to the Russian loss of more than 20 million troops in WWII — the largest among Allies — met with Petro Poroshenko and Obama on the sidelines of the event. Obama met privately, and briefly, with Putin.
“It is because France itself experienced the barbarity (of war) that it feels a duty to preserve peace everywhere, at the frontiers of Europe as in Africa,” Hollande said.
Dancers re-enacted the drama of the Nazi takeover and battles across Europe against Hitler’s forces on a stage at Sword Beach, one of the landing points near Ouistreham, a small port where British troops landed and fought their way to Pegasus Bridge, a key route. Ouistreham was the site of the main international ceremony.MORE IN Wire NewsMOSCOW — Maybe it was Islamic extremists who killed Boris Nemtsov. Full Story
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