A dwindling number of D-Day veterans are calling for the lessons of World War II to be remembered on the anniversary

OMAHA BEACH, France (AP) — As young soldiers, they were He waded through crashing waves and gunfire To fight the Nazis. The dwindling number of World War II veterans, due to their advanced age, joined a new generation of leaders Thursday to honor the dead and the living and fight for democracy on the shores they arrived on 80 years ago on D-Day.

the War in Ukraine It cast a pall over the celebrations in Normandy, and is a bleak modern-day example Life and cities Suffering once again through the war in Europe. The Ukrainian President was welcomed with a standing ovation and cheers. Russia, an important ally in World War II, whose large-scale invasion of its smaller neighbor in 2022 set Europe on a new course for war, was not invited.

80 years since the D-Day landings

  • How did today develop: the The Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France This war was unprecedented in scale and audacity, using the largest ever fleet of ships, troops, aircraft, and vehicles to change the course of World War II.
  • AP was there: On D-Day, the Associated Press said Reporters, artists and photographers are in the airon the choppy waters of the English Channel, in London, and at ports of departure and airfields to cover the Allied offensive in Normandy.
  • He lives: Follow AP’s live coverage of memorials and vigils around the worldincluding a candlelight vigil at the Bayeux War Cemetery, where 4,600 graves of World War II military casualties will be illuminated. King of England Charles III And US President Joe Biden They are expected to attend.

Anniversary for More than 4,400 Allied dead On Victory Day and tens of thousands of others, Among them were French civiliansThose who were killed in the ensuing Battle of Normandy were tinged with fear The lessons of World War II are fading.

“There are things worth fighting for,” Walter Stitt, who fought with tanks and will turn 100 in July, said while visiting Omaha Beach this week. “Though I wish there was another way to do it instead of trying to kill each other.”

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

US President Joe Biden directly linked Ukraine’s struggle for its emerging democracy to the battle to defeat Nazi Germany.

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“Giving in to bullies and submitting to dictators is simply unthinkable,” Biden said. “If we do that, it means we will forget what happened here on these sacred shores.”

While the now centenarian veterans were revisiting old memories and Fallen comrades are buried in Normandy cemeteriesUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s presence at the international commemoration of D-Day merged the horrific past of World War II with the fraught present. The number of dead and wounded on both sides in Ukraine is estimated at hundreds of thousands.

Despite Russia’s absence, French President Emmanuel Macron praised those who fought on the Eastern Front “and the resolute commitment of the Red Army and all the people who were part of the Soviet Union at that time.”

But it was the landings on June 6, 1944, and the battles in Normandy that followed, that finally drove the Nazis out of France.

“You have come here because the free world needs every one of you, and you have answered the call,” Macron said. “You came here to make France a free nation. I am back here today at home, if I may say so.

The French President awarded the Legion of Honor to 14 American veterans and a British woman. Among the Americans was Eduard Berthold, a pilot who flew three missions over France in May 1944, before participating in Operation Saint-Lô in Normandy, on D-Day. He flew 35 combat missions during World War II.

Berthold later read aloud a letter he wrote home the next day, explaining that even as a young man he understood the importance of D-Day.

“Wednesday Night, June 7, 1944. Dear Mother, Just a few lines to tell you that we are all well. “We made Flight 10 on D-Day,” he wrote. “It was definitely a great show, what we got to see. This is what everyone has been waiting for.”

Macron also awarded the Legion of Honor to 103-year-old Christiane Lamb, the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral who was studying in Normandy in 1939 when her father called her back to London. There, Lamb created detailed maps to guide landing craft crews on D-Day.

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The French president leaned towards Lamb in a wheelchair, pinned the medal and kissed her on the cheek, describing her as one of the “heroes in the shadows.”

Recognizing the inevitability of age and time for World War II veterans, crowds of uniformed and vehicle-clad enthusiasts, along with tourists enjoying the spectacle, flooded Normandy to mark the 80th anniversary. At the international ceremony held later, the veterans received a standing ovation as they were paraded in front of the stands in a lavish row of wheelchairs to avoid the long walk across the beachfront promenade.

“We just have to remember the sacrifices of everyone who gave us our freedom,” said Becky Krubetz, a Briton who now lives in Florida, whose grandfather served with the British Army during World War II and was captured in Malta. She was among a crowd of thousands of people that stretched for several kilometers along Utah Beach, the westernmost of the D-Day beaches.

In a quiet setting away from the pomp, Frenchman Christophe Recifort gave his own salute, raising the American flag he had purchased during a trip to Pennsylvania to honor those who died on D-Day.

“To forget them is to let them die again,” the 57-year-old said as he and his daughter Julie carefully refolded the flag into a tight triangle. Those now dying in Ukraine fighting the invading Russian army were on his mind as well.

“All these forces came to liberate a country whose ideology they did not know — democracy and freedom — is now under severe pressure,” he said.

For Warren Goss, a 99-year-old former D-Day soldier who landed in the first waves on Utah Beach, his sacrifice was confirmed by a visit years later to the same spot where his comrades fell.

He told the King and Prime Minister of Denmark: “I looked at the beach and it was beautiful, and all the people and children were playing, and I saw boys and girls walking, holding each other’s hands, and they were reclaiming their lives.” His words.

The beautiful atmosphere on the five code-named beaches — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword — was fueled by World War II-era jeeps and trucks tearing up the fence-clogged lanes that were so deadly to the Allied forces fighting in the entrenchments. German defenders, actors playing war on the sand where D-Day soldiers fell.

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But the real VIPs at the commemorations across the coast of Normandy were the veterans of the largest land, sea and air armada ever, which breached Hitler’s defenses in Western Europe and helped hasten his downfall 11 months later.

“They were really the golden generation, these 17- and 18-year-olds doing something very brave,” said James Becker, a 56-year-old Dutchman, looking out onto Utah Beach.

Further up the coast at Gold Beach, military bagpipes played at the same time British troops landed there 80 years ago.

UK King Charles III and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among those who attended a ceremony honoring the troops who landed there and at Swords Beach, while Prince William and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined others at a Canadian Forces ceremony at Juno Beach.

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

“Our commitment to remembering what they stood for and what they achieved 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, and the courage and sacrifice of the French Resistance.

Those who traveled to Normandy include Women who were among the millions Who made grenade launchers, tanks, other weapons and other toys Vital roles in World War II Long overshadowed by the martial exploits of men.

The veterans, who are honored everywhere they go in wheelchairs and walk with canes, use their voices to repeat a message they hope will remain timeless: Never forget.

“We weren’t doing it for the accolades and awards. We were doing it to save our country,” said Anna Mae Creer, 98, who worked on building B-17 and B-29 bombers. In saving the world.”

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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London, and Geoffrey Schaefer, Mark Carlson, Bella Schandelski, Helena Alves and Alex Turnbull along the Normandy coast contributed to this report.

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