D-Day Anniversary 2024: World Leaders, Veterans, Commemorate Normandy Landings

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Czech President Petr Pavel, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Olena Zelenska and President of the European Council Charles Michel attend the international ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings and the liberation of western Europe from Nazi Germany occupation, at Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy region, France, June 6, 2024.

VER-SUR-MER, France, June 6 (Reuters) – Veterans and world leaders meet in Normandy on Thursday to mark the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings, when more than 150,000 Allied soldiers arrived in France by sea and air to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany.

With war raging in Ukraine, on Europe’s borders, this year’s commemoration of this major turning point in World War Two will carry special resonance.

The anniversary also takes place in a year of many elections, including for the European Parliament this week and in the U.S. in November, and leaders are set to draw parallels with World War Two and warn of the dangers of isolationism and the far-right.

Democracy is literally on the ballot this year,” U.S. President Joe Biden said before traveling to France, saying sacrifices from D-Day must not be given up.

With the numbers of veterans, many aged 100 or more, fast dwindling, this is likely to be the last major ceremony in Normandy honoring them in their presence.

Some 200 veterans, most of them American or British, are set to take part in ceremonies throughout the day on windswept beaches that still bear the scars of the fighting that erupted on D-Day, history’s largest amphibious invasion, in which thousands of Allied soldiers died.

Among those who will take part is 101-year old Bob Gibson, who was in the second wave of soldiers to land on Normandy’s Utah beach.

“It’s like it happened yesterday. You wouldn’t believe what I have seen. Terrible. Some of the young fellows never reached the major beach … sometimes it wakes you up at night,” he told Reuters.

Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Britain’s King Charles, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many others will take part in the day of tributes, set to start at around 0830 GMT with a British ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer.

But Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, touching off Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War Two, was not invited.

“Ukraine needs the support from the Europeans and the Allies like France and the other European states needed it to defeat Nazism,” a European diplomat said, stressing it was important Zelenskiy will be there.

“From all those that are present in Normandy today, only Zelenskiy and the few veterans still alive know what war really is,” the diplomat added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the 70th-anniversary events in Normandy.

Along with the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine he set up the now defunct ‘Normandy format, ‘a contact group aimed at resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which then focused on the Donbas and Crimea regions.

Ten years later, the four no longer hold high-level diplomatic conferences together.

With war also raging in the Middle East and elsewhere, some of the visitors wished for peace, as they paid their tribute to fallen soldiers at the U.S. cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer.

“It’s very moving to see that so many young men are buried here,” said 66-year old Brigitte Perdrix, from the nearby city of Trouville. “A tribute to them would be for the atrocities and wars ongoing now to stop. It would be like a rose placed on each grave.”