View Full Version : D-Day, June 6 1944

June 6th, 2004, 08:46 AM
June 6, 2004

World Leaders Gather in France to Remember D-Day


Filed at 7:02 a.m. ET

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) -- Amid silent rows of crosses, leaders from more than a dozen countries gathered Sunday for ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of one of the most decisive military battles of all time -- the D-Day invasion that broke Nazi Germany's grip on continental Europe.

French President Jacques Chirac welcomed President Bush upon his arrival at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, where 9,387 U.S. soldiers are buried.

The ceremony at Omaha Beach started with a 21-gun salute directed by one of the veterans of the Normandy fighting. Bush and Chirac strode across the main memorial, and followed a red carpet down to their speaking places.

``Against the swift passage of time, our presence together today is a reminder to younger generations of the true significance of a war that continues to shape our understanding of the world,'' Chirac said. ``France will never forget.''

At the same time, Queen Elizabeth II opened the ceremony at Juno Beach -- the beach that Canadian soldiers were assigned to capture -- to thank them for their sacrifices.

``Britain had been directly threatened by the enemy, but you came across the Atlantic from the relative security of your homeland to fight for the freedom of Europe,'' the queen said.

With more than 20 world leaders arriving in Normandy at a time of high terror threat, France deployed fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles and 15,000 gendarmes and soldiers for security. Access to the region was to be sharply restricted by police after daybreak.

At least for the day, the United States and European nations set aside tensions over the U.S.-led war in Iraq, one of the greatest postwar threats to the trans-Atlantic alliance.

France, one of the leading opponents of the Iraq campaign, has gone to great lengths to showcase its gratitude for American sacrifice on its soil despite the recent squabbles with the United States.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among the leaders expected for Sunday's main event: A pomp-filled ceremony in Arromanches, near the midpoint of the five code-named beaches where roughly 156,000 soldiers -- mostly American, British and Canadian -- stormed in from the English Channel on D-Day.

Later Sunday, Chirac was to decorate 16 veterans from nearly a dozen nations with the Legion of Honor, the country's most prestigious award.

Some 1,300 soldiers from 14 countries were to march in parades or play national anthems with military bands. American, Belgian, British, Dutch, Norwegian and French planes were to soar overhead. Seven nations were to participate in a naval flotilla near Arromanches.

To convey the message that Europe has moved on, for the first time France has invited a German leader. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was to join other leaders in Arromanches and German veterans for another ceremony at one of the German cemeteries in France.

Tens of thousands of people from the United States or across Europe turned out Saturday for public events to honor the sacrifices of the war veterans and fallen soldiers.

War buffs in the uniforms of U.S. paratroopers craned their necks among nearly 50,000 people for a re-enactment of D-Day jumps by American GIs near Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Families jockeyed to see Britain's Prince Charles at a wreath-laying ceremony at Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, another of the early towns liberated on D-Day.

Casualty estimates for the Allied forces vary, but range from 2,500 to more than 5,000 dead on D-Day. But one thing is clear: the waves on Normandy shores ran red with blood.

Allied soldiers scurried across heavily mined and obstacle-covered shores, while others flew into the back country in gliders or by parachute -- some getting snagged in trees or buildings.

The weekend commemorations amount to one of the final honors for the aging veterans.

``I'm getting near death. I'm 82, son, and I'm not getting any younger!'' said Harry Hudec of Cleveland, a ``Red Devil'' of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division who landed inland from Utah Beach.

Walking with canes or wheelchair-bound, many veterans are nostalgic about fallen comrades-in-arms even as memories fade with age.

``It's gratifying that people remember,'' said 83-year-old James Coleman, of St. Paul, Ore., of the 82nd's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. ``I lost a lot of friends.''

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press

June 6th, 2004, 08:55 AM

June 6, 2004

June 6, 1944

Sixty years ago today, the free world held its breath. In America, daily life paused almost completely, subdued by the news that the invasion of Europe — D-Day — had begun. From the 21st century, we try to imagine the scale of what went forward in that gray dawn after years of preparation — the ships and men and matériel, the reserves of willpower and determination. What we sometimes forget to imagine is the almost prayerful nature of the day, the profound investment of hope and fear it entailed. It was a day in America and in Europe when civilians as surely as soldiers felt the whole of their lives concentrated on the outcome of a few hours. There has not been another time like it, when we knew that history was about to turn before our eyes.

In a way, D-Day sums up for us the whole of World War II. It was the frontal clash of two ideas, a collision between the possibility of human freedom and its nullification. Even now, we are still learning what to make of it, still trying to know whether we are dwarfed by the scale of such an effort or whether what happened that day still enlarges us. It certainly enlarges the veterans of Normandy and their friends who died in every zone of that war.

It's tempting to politicize the memory of a day so full of personal and national honor, too easy to allude to the wars of our times as if they naturally mirrored World War II. The iconic starkness of the forces that met on the beaches of Normandy makes that temptation all the greater. But beyond the resemblance of young soldiers dying in wars 60 years apart, there is no analogy, and that is something we must remember today as well. D-Day was the result of broad international accord. By D-Day, Europe had been at war — total war — for nearly five years, at profound cost to its civilian population. American civilians, in turn, had willingly made enormous material sacrifices to sustain the war effort. There was no pretense that ordinary life would go on uninterrupted and no assumption that America could go it alone.

We may find the heroics of D-Day stirring in the extreme. We may struggle to imagine the special hell of those beaches, the almost despairing lurch of the landing craft as they motored toward France. Those were brave times. But it was a bravery of shared sacrifice, a willingness to rise to an occasion that everyone prayed would never need to come again. This is a day to respect the memory of 60 years ago and, perhaps, to wonder what we might rise to if only we asked it of ourselves.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company