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 Waded ashore in Normandy By shooting to fight the Nazis. On Thursday, a new generation of leaders joined a dwindling number of World War II veterans to honor the dead, the living and the struggle for democracy in moving remembrances on and around those same shores where they landed exactly 80 years ago on D-Day Island.

the War in Ukraine It overshadowed the celebrations, and is a grim example in modern times Life and cities Suffering once again through the war in Europe.

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 world, including a candlelight vigil at 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.

Breaking dawn Eight decades after Allied forces landed on five code-named beaches — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juneau and Sword — Memorial Day was ushered in by the allied nations now standing together again 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 has directly linked Ukraine’s fight for its nascent democracy to the battle to defeat Nazi Germany.

“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.”

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With the deaths and injuries on both sides in Ukraine estimated at hundreds of thousands, commemorations of that anniversary were held More than 4,400 Allied dead On Victory Day and tens of thousands of others, Among them were French civilianswho were killed in the ensuing Battle of Normandy, are terrified of this The lessons of World War II have been lost.

“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.

While hundred-year-old veterans are now recalling ancient memories and Fallen comrades are buried in Normandy cemeteriesThe presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at D-Day ceremonies with world leaders supporting Ukraine merged the horrific past of World War II with the fraught present.

French President Emmanuel Macron awarded the Legion of Honor to 11 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.

“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.

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.

The French president leaned toward Lamb, in a wheelchair like many veterans, to pin the medal and kiss her on the cheek, calling her one of the “heroes in the shadows.”

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Recognizing the inevitability of age and time for World War II veterans, huge crowds of enthusiasts wearing the uniforms and riding vehicles of the time, and tourists enjoying the spectacle, flooded Normandy to celebrate the 80th anniversary.

“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 place away from the official celebrations, Frenchman Christophe Recifort gave his own salute, raising the American flag that 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, adding that for those now dying in Ukraine fighting the Russian invasion, he added. The army was also on his mind.

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

The pleasant atmosphere, fueled by World War II-era jeeps and trucks tearing through lanes crowded with hedgerows so deadly to Allied troops who battled the entrenched German defenders, and actors playing war in the sand where D-Day soldiers fell, is leaving. Open the question of what meaning anniversary celebrations will have once the veterans are gone.

But on the 80th anniversary, they will be VIPs at celebrations across the coast of Normandy as the largest land, sea and air fleet ever to penetrate Hitler’s defenses in Western Europe and help hasten his downfall 11 months later.

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

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