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The Latest | D-Day’s 80th anniversary brings World War II veterans back to the beaches of Normandy
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The Latest | D-Day’s 80th anniversary brings World War II veterans back to the beaches of Normandy

  • PublishedJune 6, 2024



World War II veterans joined heads of state and others Thursday on the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The Allied invasion, which began on June 6, 1944, led to the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the war. The assault began with Allied aircraft bombing German defenses in Normandy, followed by around 1,200 aircraft that carried airborne troops. As dawn broke, Allied forces started bombing German coastal defenses and shortly after that vessels began putting troops ashore on five codenamed beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, nearly 160,000 Allied troops had landed in Normandy, although there were thousands of casualties.

Few witnesses to history’s biggest amphibious invasion remain alive today.

Currently:

— Hour by hour: A brief timeline of the Allies’ invasion of occupied France

— With time short, veterans seize the chance to keep their D-Day memories alive for others

Women were barred from combat. But they helped D-Day succeed in other ways

How AP covered the D-Day landings and lost a photographer in the battle for Normandy

A Jewish veteran from London prepares to commemorate the 80th anniversary

Here’s the latest:

KING CHARLES AND QUEEN CAMILLA LEAD D-DAY COMMEMORATIONS AT NEW MEMORIAL IN FRANCE

VER-SUR-MER, France — King Charles III and Queen Camilla led commemorations at the new British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer.

Camilla wiped away a tear as actor Martin Freeman read words by 99-year-old D-Day veteran Joe Mines, recalling that “I was 19 when I landed, but I was still a boy. I don’t care what people say, I wasn’t a man, I was a boy. And I didn’t have any idea of war and killing.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer took a break from campaigning for Britain’s July 4 election to travel to France for the ceremony.

Sunak paid tribute to veterans, saying their “actions freed a continent and built a better world.”

“You risked everything and we owe you everything,” he said. “We cannot possibly hope to repay that debt but we can and we must pledge never to forget.”

Welsh singer Tom Jones, 83, sang his song “I Won’t Crumble With You If You Fall,” before the king addressed the audience in French and English.

Charles said that while the number of living veterans was dwindling, “our obligation to remember what they stood for and what they achieved for us all can never diminish.”

Speaking in French, Charles paid tribute to the “unimaginable number” of French civilians killed in the battle for Normandy, and the bravery and sacrifice of the French Resistance.

MAN HONORS A GRANDFATHER HE NEVER KNEW, AN OFFICER WHO SMUGGLED HIMSELF ON A LANDING CRAFT

UTAH BEACH, France — Among the thousands who flocked to D-Day beach Utah was the grandson of an American colonel who smuggled himself aboard a landing craft so he could join his men in the first waves of the June 6, 1944, invasion.

John Reistrup, 55, never met his grandfather, Eugene M. Caffey, who died in 1961. Coming back to Utah for the 80th anniversary was his way of carrying “the torch for someone you never met that had such an impact on so many lives.”

A plaque at the beach that honors his grandfather says the colonel led the 19,500 men of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade tasked on that fateful day with the logistics of the landing on Utah, one of five invasion beaches.

Not scheduled to land until 0900, Caffey, a 49-year-old father of nine, had smuggled himself, with no equipment except an empty rifle, aboard an 8th Infantry landing craft. En route he managed to load his rifle by taking up a collection of one bullet each from eight infantrymen. He arrived ashore very early in the assault, Reistrup said.

“No officers were allowed on the first waves of the landing but he said, ‘Hell, no, I’m going with my guys.’”

A Nazi bunker captured on the beach then became his grandfather’s office, he said. Caffey’s portrait hangs there, inside, to this day.

Forging ahead into fire on D-Day “has got to be the greatest courage you could ever have,” said Reistrup, who has visited Normandy about 10 times since his first visit as a kid in 1974.

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DOT FRANCE’S UTAH BEACH FOR D-DAY COMMEMORATIONS

UTAH BEACH, France — Thousands of people, including many people in World War II-era uniforms, were stretched for several kilometers (miles) along Utah Beach ahead of commemorations marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Utah was one of the five landing beaches along the coast of Normandy where Allied troops landed on June 6, 2024. Utah and Omaha were taken — at the cost of hundreds of lives — by American forces, with the others stormed by troops from Britain and Canada, also killing many hundreds, plus others from France.

The long stretch of the Normandy coast is where the largest-ever land, sea and air armada punctured Hitler’s defenses in Western Europe and helped precipitate his downfall 11 months later.

A fair-like atmosphere is fueled by World War II-era jeeps and trucks tearing down hedge-rowed lanes so deadly for Allied troops who fought dug-in German defenders, and of reenactors playing at war on sands where D-Day soldiers fell.

Surviving veterans, who are around 100 years old now, are the VIPs of the day’s events.

‘FREEDOM COSTS,’ DENMARK’S PRIME MINISTER SAYS AS SHE MARKS D-DAY’S 80TH ANNIVERSARY

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s prime minister said that this year’s observances of the D-Day landings, which come as Russia is at war against Ukraine, are a reminder that there is a price for defending freedom.

“From D-Day we have learned that freedom costs,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a statement as she headed to Normandy for ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings.

“Eighty years later, Europe once again finds itself at a fateful moment. Where freedom is once again being fought for on our own continent,” she said, “against an aggressive and brutal enemy who will dictate country borders with brute force and leave a trail of death and destruction.”

IMAGINING THE HORROR AND CELEBRATING FREEDOM

UTAH BEACH, France — Because freedom is worth celebrating and passing on to children, too, Alexandra Hamon, 35, drank champagne and shared the sunrise with her boys, Karl and Neils, both 13, as the day dawned Thursday over the beaches where Allied soldiers landed on D-Day.

The family was among a crowd several thousands strong that stretched for kilometers along Utah beach — one of the five beaches along the coast of Normandy where Allied troops landed. Utah and Omaha were taken — at the cost of hundreds of lives — by American forces, with the others stormed by troops from Britain and Canada, also killing many hundreds, plus others from France. The other code-named beaches are Juno, Sword and Gold.

Karl sat perched on the hood of their 1943 Dodge truck, lovingly restored by her husband, Enogat, as the family from Saint Malo, a French coastal city that was badly damaged in major fighting about two months after D-Day, stared out across the English Channel.

The waters Thursday were still and peaceful — unlike on that fateful day that helped change the course of WWII and precipitate Adolf Hitler’s downfall 11 months later.

“It’s indescribable, just imagining the chaos. Now it’s peaceful, almost festive, we try to imagine but I think it’s unimaginable,” she said.

“You think of all those guys, everything they went through,” she added of the fast-dwindling D-Day veterans. “They say they aren’t heroes. But they are, they are. Those guys really should never die. I imagine the boats, the guys arriving, the sounds. It must have been horrible, yes, horrible.”

KEEPING ALIVE THE MEMORY OF SOLDIERS ‘WHO DIED FOR OUR FREEDOM’

UTAH BEACH, France — As the rising sun took the night’s chill off Utah Beach, Christophe Receveur, 57, from Thionville in eastern France, unfurled a Stars and Stripes he bought in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, six months ago specifically to honor the Americans who fell on D-Day.

“To keep alive the memory of the soldiers who died for our freedom,” he said. “To forget them is to let them die all over again.”

Receveur and his daughter, Julie, 28, carefully folded the flag into a tight triangle after their quiet, reflective homage on an empty stretch of the beach, busy with hundreds of people strung out along the sands.

Receveur said the Ukraine war was on his mind, too, as he honored the fallen of WWII. His great grandfather fought in WWI, his grandfather was a prisoner of war in WWII, and his father was a veteran of France’s war in former North African colony Algeria.

“I don’t want our freedom, for our kids, our grandkids, to be hit by … I don’t want to say a madman,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “So a lot of respect for these people who died and for those who are still dying,” he said of the WWII dead and those in Ukraine.

He said the D-Day sacrifices have to be remembered. “Lots of emotion that all these troops came to liberate a country that they didn’t know for an ideology — democracy, freedom — that is under severe strain now.”

‘WE JUST HAVE TO REMEMBER THE SACRIFICES’

UTAH BEACH, France — As the golden sun pierced low clouds over the seas that were thick with landing craft approaching Normandy on D-Day, Becky Kraubetz peered across the English Channel toward her native Britain, her eyes filled with tears as she thought about the scene 80 years ago.

“It’s so historic and we just have to remember the sacrifices of everybody who gave us our freedom,” said Kraubetz, whose grandfather served with the British Army during World War II and was captured in Malta.

“It gives you goosebumps, everything that happened here. Imagine just jumping into the water, freezing cold,” said the 54-year-old who now lives in Florida, as the rays of the morning sun started to warm the hundreds of people who’d waited through the night’s chill for dawn’s break.

“The bravery, the courage, for people to face that is just unbelievable — very, very humbled to be here.”

THE SUN RISES OVER NORMANDY BEACHES AS THE WORLD REMEMBERS D-DAY

UTAH BEACH, France — As the sun sets on the D-Day generation, it’s rising again over Normandy beaches where soldiers fought and died exactly 80 years ago, kicking off intense anniversary commemorations Thursday against the backdrop of renewed war in Europe, in Ukraine.

Ever-dwindling numbers of World War II veterans, and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, make this anniversary particularly meaningful, mixing poignant remembrances for D-Day sacrifices with an Allied show of solidarity for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, among the guests.

But host France hasn’t invited World War II ally Russia, citing its “war of aggression against Ukraine that has intensified in recent weeks.”

HUNDREDS GATHER AT DAWN AT UTAH BEACH TO MARK D-DAY’S 80TH ANNIVERSARY

UTAH BEACH, France — Hundreds of people, some in WWII-era uniforms, arrived before dawn to stretch out across the now peaceful sands of Utah Beach, one of the five Allied landing zones on D-Day where troops waded into cold seas through hails of fire exactly 80 years ago.

“It’s our way of paying homage, and better understanding what really happened in the 1944 landings,” said Dimitri Picot, a 33-year-old from the nearby Normandy town of Carentan who works as a rat and pest catcher.

Picot said he often dives on a wrecked ship that was hit and exploded, its wreckage visible Thursday as night gave way to day. Growing up amid the June 6, 1944, landing zones, he said he has become accustomed to seeing walls still pockmarked by bullets, shrapnel and other reminders of that fateful day.

But on the 80th anniversary “to think that they liberated us” hammered home the emotion, he said.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



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