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


World leaders pay their respects during the D-Day 80-year commemorative ceremony at Normandy.
World leaders pay their respects during the D-Day 80-year commemorative ceremony at Normandy.

Moving letters from veterans have been read out as ceremonies took place in Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings, when more than 150,000 Allied soldiers invaded France by sea and air to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany.

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

“I tried to forget D-Day but I can’t,” Royal Navy veteran Ron Hendrey said in words read by actor Douglas Booth. “I’ve lived 80 years since that day, my friends have remained under the earth.”

With war raging in Ukraine on Europe’s borders, this year’s commemoration of this turning point in World War II carries 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.

Solemn music was played and Tom Jones sang “I won’t crumble with you if you fall” in a ceremony attended by Britain’s King Charles and Queen Camilla and French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte.

Britain's King Charles III
Britain’s King Charles III was among the heads of state in Normandy. (AP PHOTO)

The King, in full military uniform, was visibly moved as he paid tribute to those who took part in the landings, as well as the French resistance.

“We recall the lesson that comes to us again and again across the decades: free nations must stand together to oppose tyranny,” he said.

“Our admiration is eternal,” said Charles, who spoke in both French and English. “Let us pray such sacrifice will never be made again.”

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.

Macron presented a Legion d’Honneur award to Christian Lamb, a 103-year-old member of the wartime British female naval service who helped plan the landings, describing her as “a hero in the shadows”.

“You have set us an example, which we’ll not forget. France will never forget the British troops who landed on D-Day and all their brothers in arms,” he said.

“We are honoured by the ties of remembrance, friendship and loyalty which were forged between our two countries.”

At a separate event at the Normandy American cemetery, US President Joe Biden met with World War II veterans, giving salutes, handshakes and hugs to the men, many in wheelchairs, who came to France for the anniversary.

Joe Biden and Jill Biden with World War II veteran
Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greeted World War II veterans during the Normandy ceremony. (AP PHOTO)

He and his wife, Jill, took photos with the veterans and the president gave them each special commemorative coins.

Underlining the frail health of many veterans, the US Embassy said the last surviving Native American veteran was gravely ill

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many others will take part in the day of tributes.

Earlier in the day, 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 to watch a collection of World War II jeeps and an amphibious vehicle coming ashore carrying a bagpiper playing a lament.

Re-enactors sillhouetted near Saint-Martin-de-Vareville Normandy
Re-enactments were held along Normandy’s coast to mark 80 years since the D-Day landings. (AP PHOTO)

At Omaha Beach, the largest of the D-Day landing areas, where about 2400 US servicemen lost their lives on June 6, 1944, more than 20 heads of state and government were due to attend an international ceremony later in the day.

Landing craft were in place to re-enact part of the landings, while several warships and patrol boats anchored on the horizon.

At a Canadian ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We must all continue to stand for democracy day in day out, we owe it for future generations.”

Prince William, speaking at the same ceremony, said: “Standing here today, in peaceful silence, it is almost impossible to grasp the courage it would have taken to run into the fury of battle that very day.”