Home International Normandy celebrates D-Day in small crowds but with a big heart

Normandy celebrates D-Day in small crowds but with a big heart


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COLLEVILLE SUR MER, FRANCE – As the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of wet sand stretching to distant cliffs, you begin to realize the daunting task faced by the Allied soldiers on June 6, 1944, when they landed on the seashore. The Nazi-occupied coast of Normandy.

The 77th anniversary of D-Day was marked on Sunday with several events to commemorate the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control, and in honor of the fallen.

“These are the people who allowed freedom to re-gain a foothold on the European continent, and who in the following days and weeks removed the shackles of tyranny, the hedge at the Normandy fence, mile after bloody mile,” – the British Ambassador to France, Lord Edward Llewellyn, said at the opening of the new British monument to the heroes of D.

On D-Day, over 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on beaches codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold in 7,000 boats. This year on June 6, the beaches were huge and almost empty when the sun came up, exactly 77 years after the invasion of dawn.

For the second year in a row, the anniversary celebrations are marked by virus-related travel restrictions that prevent veterans or the families of deceased soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other Allied countries from traveling to France. Exceptions were only allowed for a few officials.

At the newly built British Normandy memorial near the village of Ver-sur-Mer, bagpipes played memorial tunes, and warplanes swept overhead, leaving behind them red-white-blue smoke. Socially distanced participants were in awe of the solemnity and serenity of this place, which offered breathtaking and poignant views of Gold Beach and the English Channel.

The new monument pays tribute to those under British command who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy.

The text carved on the wall reads: “They died to keep Europe free.”

Visitors rose to greet over 22,000 men and women, mostly British soldiers, whose names are engraved on the stone columns. Giant screens showed D-Day veterans gathering at the same time at the British National Memorial Aboretum to remotely watch what was happening in Normandy. Prince Charles, speaking via video link, expressed regret that he could not attend in person.

June 6, 1944 “In the heart of the fog that enveloped the coast of Normandy … there was a lightning of freedom,” said French Defense Minister Florence Parly at the ceremony. “France does not forget. France is always grateful. “

Charles Shaye, a Native American Penobscot who arrived as a US military doctor on June 6, 1944 and now calls Normandy his home, was the sole surviving D-Day veteran at a ceremony in Vers-sur-Mer.

Another veteran of the Battle of Normandy, British captain David Milchrist, was also present. He landed with his team in Normandy on June 12, 1944, to replace the officers killed in the early days of the battle.

Later that day, Shay attended a memorial service at the American Cemetery in Colville-sur-Mer, watching Omaha Beach, in the presence of officials from the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and other allied countries.

There are 9,380 graves in the cemetery, most of which are military personnel who died as a result of the landing and the operations that followed. Another 1,557 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Missing Persons.

Most of the public events were canceled, and official ceremonies were limited to a small number of selected guests and dignitaries.

Denis van den Brink, a World War II expert based in the city of Carentan, the site of a strategic battle near Utah Beach, admitted “a big loss, a big absence — these are all veterans who couldn’t travel.”

“It really hurts us a lot because they are all about 95 or 100 years old and we hope they will last forever. But, you know … ”, – he said.

“At the very least, we remain in a certain spirit of remembrance, which is most important,” he told The Associated Press.

On the anniversary weekend, many locals came out to see the monuments marking key moments of the battle and to express their gratitude to the soldiers. French enthusiasts for the history of World War II and several travelers from neighboring European countries could also be seen in jeeps and military vehicles on the small roads of Normandy.

Several reenactors arrived in Omaha Beach early in the morning to pay tribute to those killed that day, carrying flowers and American flags.

On D-Day 4,414 Allied soldiers were killed, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 people were injured. On the German side, several thousand people were killed or wounded.

There are more than 20 military cemeteries in Normandy, which are mainly occupied by Americans, Germans, French, British, Canadians and Polish troops who took part in the historic battle.

Dignitaries highlighted the importance of preserving the D-Day legacy for future generations.

“In the face of today’s threats, we must act together and demonstrate unity,” Parley said, “for peace and freedom to continue.”


Nicolas Garrigue contributed to this report from Vers-sur-Mer.


In a previous version of this story, the name of the British ambassador was changed to Llewellyn rather than Llewelyn.

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