PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND – Queen Elizabeth II and world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump gathered Wednesday on the south coast of England to honor the troops who risked and sacrificed their lives 75 years ago on D-Day, a bloody turning point in World War II.
Across the English Channel, American and British paratroopers dropped into northwestern France and scaled cliffs beside Normandy beaches, re-creating the daring, costly invasion that helped liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.
With the number of veterans of World War II dwindling, the guests of honor at an international ceremony in Portsmouth were several hundred people who served in the conflict — and the 93-year-old British monarch, also a member of what has been called the “greatest generation.”
The queen, who served as an army mechanic during the war, said that when she attended a 60th anniversary commemoration of D-Day 15 years ago, many thought it might be the last such event. “But the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient.”
Several hundred World War II veterans, ages 91 to 101, attended the ceremony in Portsmouth, the English port city from where many of the troops embarked for Normandy on June 5, 1944.
Many later re-created their journey, with less danger and more comfort, by crossing the English Channel by ship to Normandy overnight to attend commemorations Thursday in Bayeux, the first major town liberated by Allied troops after D-Day.
Wednesday’s ceremony brought together presidents, prime ministers and other representatives of more than a dozen countries that fought alongside Britain in Normandy.
The leader of the country that was the enemy in 1944, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also attended — a symbol of Europe’s postwar reconciliation and transformation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who attended 70th anniversary commemorations in France five years ago, was not invited. Russia was not involved in D-Day but was instrumental in defeating the Nazis on the Eastern Front. The omission of Russia is a striking reversal from 75 years ago, when the Soviet contribution at a cost of 27 million dead soldiers and civilians was hailed by the French as the biggest factor in Nazi Germany’s defeat.
Wednesday’s ceremony sought to take people back in time, with world leaders reading the words of participants in the conflict.
Trump read a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered in a radio address on June 6, 1944, extolling the “mighty endeavor” Allied troops were engaged in.
British Prime Minister Theresa May read a letter written by Capt. Norman Skinner of the Royal Army Service Corps to his wife, Gladys, on June 3, 1944, a few days before the invasion. He was killed the day after D-Day.
“Although I would give anything to be back with you, I have not yet had any wish at all to back down from the job we have to do,” he wrote.
On Thursday the focus shifted to France, where commemorations were to be held at simple military cemeteries near the beaches.
The sea of mercury blue couldn’t have been more peaceful as the sun rose over Omaha Beach in Normandy. About 100 people gathered on the edge of the waters that ran red on June 6, 1944, at the beach, the first of five code-named beaches where Allied forces came ashore.
French President Emmanuel Macron and May later laid the first stone for a new British memorial to fallen soldiers at Ver-sur-Mer.
Events in France began Wednesday with U.S. Army Rangers climbing the jagged limestone cliffs of Normandy’s Pointe du Hoc to honor the men who scaled them under fire.
Elsewhere in Normandy, parachutists jumped from C-47 transporters in WWII colors and other aircraft, aiming for fields of wild flowers on the outskirts of Carentan, one of the early objectives for Allied troops.
Among the jumpers was American D-Day veteran Tom Rice, 97. He jumped into Normandy with thousands of others in 1944.
Like many other veterans, Rice remains troubled by the war. “We did a lot of destruction, damage,” he said. “And we chased the Germans out, and coming back here is a matter of closure.”
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