US, Europe joined in lastD-Day tribute in Normandy

7th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

ARROMANCHES, France, June 6 (AFP) - Leaders of the World War II Allies united with Germany on the beaches of Normandy Sunday to honour those who perished in the D-Day landings 60 years ago, and pledged their sacrifice would never be forgotten.

ARROMANCHES, France, June 6 (AFP) - Leaders of the World War II Allies united with Germany on the beaches of Normandy Sunday to honour those who perished in the D-Day landings 60 years ago, and pledged their sacrifice would never be forgotten.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder became the first German leader to attend the commemorations of the Allied invasion of the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944, which led to the collapse of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

"As we commemorate those decisive moments in our history, I wanted Germany to remember with us those hours when the ideal of freedom returned to our continent," French President Jacques Chirac told 21 leaders from 16 countries at the main D-Day ceremony in Arromanches.

"We hold up the example of France-German reconciliation, to show the world that hatred has no future, that a path to peace is always possible."

Thousands died on that first day of the battle to liberate Nazi-occupied France, raked by artillery fire as they plunged out of boats sailed across the Channel onto the sands of Normandy.

More than 135,000 men waded ashore on the first day of Operation Overlord, backed by 20,000 parachutists, in the push to break Hitler's four-year grip on France.

The greatest casualties on that first day were sustained by the Americans who landed at Omaha Beach, and ran straight into the path of German guns perched on the cliffs above. Some 2,000 were mown down, about half the total losses on the day.

"You will be honoured ever and always," US President George W. Bush told US veterans gathered at the US cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer above Omaha Beach.

Those who stormed the beaches 60 years ago had witnessed "scenes of daring and self-giving that went beyond anything the army or the nation could ask," he added.

Chirac vowed: "France will never forget. She will never forget that 6th of June, 1944, the day hope was reborn and rekindled."

Bush also paid tribute to former president Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday at the age of 93, as flags flew at half-mast in the cemetery.

In a weekend of poignant moments and painful memories, the proud parade of 142 veterans from 14 countries who marched past crowned heads, presidents, and prime ministers under a blazing sun stood out.

As they passed by a podium at the main ceremony at Arromanches, the leaders of some of the world's most powerful countries rose to give them a standing ovation. Many of the veterans struggled to hold back tears.

The presence of Schroeder stirred a controversy here, with some veterans angered that the leader of their bitterest foe should be accorded such an honour.

But many people, including many French locals, agreed it was time to lay their ghosts to rest.

As Schroeder, who lost his father in the war, arrived at the Allied cemetery in the village of Ranville where some 322 German troops were laid to rest alongside 2,200 Allied troops he was applauded by hundreds of residents.

He stood for a moment in silent reflection before the grave of an unknown German soldier, before paying tribute to Allied troops laid to rest there. He had been keen to avoid going to any cemetery where hated SS officers are buried.

Later he told Chirac in a speech at the Caen peace museum that his country accepted the burden of history and would work to safeguard peace and freedom in Europe and around the world.

"We in Germany know who caused the war. We know our responsibility for history and we take it seriously," he said, adding that those who died in World War II had not died in vain.

"Europe has learned its history, and we Germans are not going to supress it. Europe's citizens and politicians are responsible for ensuring that war-making, war crimes and terrorism have no chance."

This year's commemorations are set to be the last major ones given the age of the remaining veterans, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth, 78, commiserated with veterans saying "we are all getting old".

But she reassured them: "What for you is a haunting memory of danger and sacrifice one summer long ago, is for your country, and for generations of your countrymen to come, one of the proudest moments in our long national history.

"I take it upon myself to express the immense debt of gratitude we owe to you all. I salute you, and thank you on behalf of our whole nation."

Russian President Vladimir Putin was also invited to join the events, in recognition of the huge losses suffered by the Soviet Army during World War II.

Soviet historians argued that the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 were relatively insignificant compared to the great eastern front land battle of Stalingrad and believed their western counterparts belittled the Red Army's achievements.

But speaking to journalists, Putin urged the world never to slip back into the attitudes of the Cold War.

"The Cold War came and the West was silent about the achievements of the Soviets while we kept quiet about the role of the second front and the importance of resistance forces in occupied Europe,"said the former KGB spy.


Subject: French news

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