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Dwindling number of D-Day veterans mark anniversary with plea to recall WWII lessons in today’s wars

OMAHA BEACH, France (AP) — As young soldiers, they landed in Normandy by gunfire to fight the Nazis. On Thursday, a dwindling number of World War II veterans were joined by a new generation of leaders to honor the dead, the living and the fight for democracy by moving commemorations to and around these same beaches where they landed exactly 80 years ago on D-Jour.

THE war in Ukraine overshadowed the ceremonies, a dark modern example of lives and cities who are suffering again from the war in Europe.


  • How the day went: THE Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France was unprecedented in its scale and audacity, using the largest armada of ships, troops, aircraft and vehicles ever seen to change the course of World War II.
  • AP was there: On the day, the Associated Press had reporters, artists and photographers in the airon the rough waters of the English Channel, in London, as well as in ports of departure and airfields to cover the Allied assault in Normandy.
  • Live: Follow AP’s live coverage of memorials and vigils around the world, including a candlelight vigil at the Bayeux War Cemetery, where 4,600 graves of World War II military victims will be illuminated. King Charles III of England And US President Joe Biden are among those expected.

Dawn, eight decades after Allied troops landed on five code-named beaches – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword – marked the start of the day of commemoration of the Allied nations, now united behind Ukraine.

World War II ally Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, was not invited, and US President Joe Biden directly linked Ukraine’s fight for its young democracy in the battle to defeat Nazi Germany.

“Surrendering to tyrants, kowtowing to dictators is simply unthinkable,” Biden said. “If we were to do this, it would mean we would forget what happened here, on these sacred beaches.”

With deaths and injuries on both sides in Ukraine estimated at hundreds of thousands, the commemorations of more than 4,400 allied deaths on D-Day and several tens of thousands of others, including French civilianskilled in the ensuing Battle of Normandy, are tinged with concerns that The lessons of the Second World War are being lost.

“There are things worth fighting for,” Walter Stitt, who fought in tanks and turns 100 in July, said when he visited Omaha Beach this week. “Though I wish there was another way to do it other than trying to kill each other.”

“We’ll find out one of these days, but I won’t be here for it,” he said.

As veterans now 100 years old revisit old memories and fallen comrades buried in Norman gravesUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s presence at D-Day commemorations with world leaders supporting Ukraine merged the terrible past of World War II with the fraught present.

French President Emmanuel Macron awarded the Legion of Honor to 11 American veterans and one British veteran. Among the Americans was Edward Berthold, a pilot who flew his three missions over France in May 1944, before taking part in an operation at Saint-Lô, Normandy, on D-Day. He flew 35 combat missions in total during World War II.

“You came here because the free world needed each of you, and you answered the call,” Macron said. “You came here to make France a free nation. You are back here today, home, so to speak.

Macron also awarded the Legion of Honor to Christian Lamb, 103, the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral who was studying in Normandy in 1939 when her father recalled her to London. There, Lamb created detailed maps that guided the landing craft crews on D-Day.

The French president leaned toward Lamb, in a wheelchair as many veterans were, to pin the medal and kiss her on both cheeks, describing her as one of the “shadow heroes.”

Aware of the inevitability of age and time for World War II veterans, huge crowds of aficionados in period uniforms and vehicles, and tourists soaking up the spectacle, flooded Normandy for the 80th anniversary.

“We just have to remember the sacrifices of everyone who gave us our freedom,” said Becky Kraubetz, a Briton now living in Florida, whose grandfather served in the British army during World War II. and was captured in Malta. She was part of a crowd of thousands that stretched for several miles along Utah Beach, the westernmost of the landing beaches.

In a quiet place, away from official ceremonies, Frenchman Christophe Receveur paid his own tribute by unfurling an American flag that he had purchased during a trip to Pennsylvania to honor the D-Day dead.

“To forget them is to let them die again,” the 57-year-old said as he and his daughter Julie carefully folded the flag into a tight triangle, adding that those currently dying in Ukraine fighting against Russian invasion. the army was also on his mind.

“All these troops came to liberate a country they didn’t know for an ideology – democracy, freedom – which is currently under great pressure,” he said.

The fairground atmosphere fueled by the jeeps and trucks from the Second World War hurtling down the hedge-lined lanes, so deadly for the Allied troops fighting the entrenched German defenders, and by the re-enactors playing war on the sands where fallen soldiers of D-Day, raises the question of what meaning anniversaries will have once the veterans are gone.

But on the 80th anniversary, they are the VIPs at the commemorations on the Normandy coast, where the largest land, sea and air armada ever seen breached Hitler’s defenses in Western Europe and helped precipitate his downfall 11 months later .

“They were really the golden generation, these 17 or 18-year-old guys doing something so brave,” said James Baker, a 56-year-old from the Netherlands, reflecting on Utah Beach.

Further up the coast, on Gold Beach, a military bagpipe player was playing precisely as British troops landed there 80 years ago.

Britain’s King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among those attending a ceremony honoring the troops who landed there and at Sword Beach, while Prince William and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined others at a ceremony honoring Canadian troops at Juno Beach.

In his speech, the king told the crowd that the world was lucky that a generation “did not flinch” when called upon.

“Our obligation to remember what they stood for and what they accomplished for all of us can never diminish,” he said.

Speaking in French, Charles also paid tribute to the “unimaginable number” of French civilians killed in the Battle of Normandy, as well as the courage and sacrifice of the French Resistance.

Among those who traveled to Normandy were women who were part of the millions who built bombers, tanks and other weapons and played other vital roles during World War II which have long been eclipsed by the military exploits of men.

Celebrated everywhere they go in wheelchairs and walking with canes, veterans use their voices to repeat their message that they hope will live on forever: Never forget.

“We weren’t doing it for the honors and awards. We were doing it to save our country,” said Anna Mae Krier, 98, who worked as a riveter building B-17 and B-29 bombers. “We ended up helping to save the world.”


Jill Lawless in London, and Jeffrey Schaeffer, Mark Carlson, Bela Szandelszky, Helena Alves and Alex Turnbull along the Normandy coast contributed to this report.

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