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D-Day commemorations see parallels drawn between France and Ukraine

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By Thomas Hill  with AP
World War II reenactor put roses and flowers at dawn on Omaha Beach, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy
World War II reenactor put roses and flowers at dawn on Omaha Beach, in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy   -   Copyright  Jeremias Gonzalez/The Associated Press

Crowds of French and international visitors, including veterans in their nineties, have laid wreaths during a ceremony in Normandy to mark the 78th anniversary of D-Day.

For the past two years, D-Day ceremonies were reduced to a minimum amid COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

But this year, crowds were back to pay tribute to the nearly 160,000 troops from Britain, the US, Canada and elsewhere who landed in Normandy to liberate northern France. 

Many history buffs, wearing military and civilian clothes from the period, also came to stage a reenactment of the events.

Several thousand people attended a ceremony at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach in the French town of Colleville-sur-Mer. 

They applauded more than 20 WWII veterans who were present at the commemoration.

Amongst them was US D-Day veteran Charles Shay, who expressed thoughts for his comrades who died here 78 years ago.

“I have never forgotten them and I know that their spirits are here,” he said.

The 98-year-old Penobscot Native American from Indian Island, Maine, took part in a sage-burning ceremony near the beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer. 

Shay, who now lives in Normandy, was a 19-year-old US Army medic when he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

He said he was especially sad to see war in Europe once again, so many years later.

“Ukraine is a very sad situation. I feel sorry for the people there and I don’t know why this war had to come, but I think human beings like to, I think they like to fight. I don’t know," he said. 

"In 1944, I landed on these beaches and we thought we’d bring peace to the world. But it’s not possible.”

On D-Day, Allied troops landed on the beaches codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. On that single day, 4,414 Allied soldiers lost their lives, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded.

On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.

In Colleville-sur-Mer on Monday, US Air Force aircraft flew over the American Cemetery during the commemoration ceremony, in the presence of Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The site is home to the gravesites of 9,386 people who died fighting on D-Day and in the operations that followed.

Milley had strong words about Ukraine at the American Cemetery ceremony, vowing that the US and its allies would keep up their “significant” support to Ukraine.

“Kyiv maybe 2,000 kilometres away from here, they too, right now, today, are experiencing the same horrors as the French citizens experienced in World War II at the hands of the Nazi invader,” Milley said in a speech.

“Let’s not those only here be the last witnesses to a time when our Allies come together to defeat tyranny.”