Friday is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings of Allied troops in Normandy, the largest amphibious invasion in history and a turning point in World War II. Here are some of the events held or planned around the United States and in France:
OBAMA HONORS WWII GENERATION AT NORMANDY
President Barack Obama visited the beaches at Normandy in what he called a “powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom” that lives on in a new generation. He spoke from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where nearly 10,000 white marble tombstones sit on a bluff overlooking the site of the battle’s most violent fighting at Omaha Beach. He described D-Day’s devastating scene in vivid terms, recalling that “by daybreak, blood soaked the water” and “thousands of rounds bit into flesh and sand.” His speech came after he met privately with some of the dwindling number of surviving troops who fought Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, along with those who have served since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
DIGNITARIES, VETERANS TAKE TO NORMANDY
Several men who stormed Normandy’s shore 70 years ago joined world leaders in paying tribute to the 150,000 Allied troops who risked and lost their lives. “France will never forget what it owes these soldiers, what it owes the United States,” French President Francois Hollande said at the Normandy American Cemetery. “Vive l’Amerique! Vive la France! And long live the memory of those who fell here for our liberty.” In all, 19 world leaders, more than 1,000 veterans and many others gathered to honor the troops and civilians who fell in mighty battles that helped bring Europe peace and unity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a few German veterans also took part in Friday’s ceremony, as a gesture of the European unity that the Allied victory brought.
US D-DAY VETS HONOR FALLEN COMRADES
The seven returning vets from the U.S. 29th Infantry Division and their family members raised a toast to those who died in the invasion on Omaha Beach. At 6:30 a.m., the precise hour that the first waves of infantry began wading ashore under a hailstorm of German machine gun and mortar fire, the men, most now in their 90s, raised glasses of bracing Calvados apple brandy to the memory of friends killed that day. “Twenty-nine, let’s go!” they shouted, then downed the shots. Hundreds of onlookers crowded the beach, including many re-enactors in period army uniforms. Some drove vintage jeeps and armored vehicles like those that would have been seen 70 years ago. A military band of serving 29th division members played taps and “Amazing Grace” before the seven vets walked off the beach to the applause.
ROSE PETALS OVER LADY LIBERTY
France is saying “thank you” to the United States for its help in World War II. Three helicopters showered a million rose petals on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. A French military frigate, the Lafayette, was moored near the statue, which was a gift from France. Hundreds of history buffs, World War II veterans and active duty military members gathered for the event. Children unfurled two giant flags at the base of the statue: One American, one French. The band then played both countries’ national anthems. The ceremony also included a 21-gun salute to honor veterans of the war.
YOGI BERRA, D-DAY ROCKET BOAT VET, HONORED FOR SERVICE
Seventy years ago, Lawrence Peter Berra was a 19-year-old from St. Louis on a small attack boat launching rockets at the Germans during the Allied invasion of Normandy. The minor league baseball player, who would later become known worldwide as Yogi, emerged unscathed from that bloody day. Now 89 years old, Berra was honored by the New Jersey museum that bears his name, as well as by the Navy and several veterans groups. His age prevented him from participating in ceremonies in France. He sat in a wheelchair, a wearing a Navy blue Yankees windbreaker in the air conditioned room, along with a Yankees cap. He told The Associated Press afterward that D-Day was “amazing” and “awful,” as he fired at the Nazis from 300 yards offshore.
WREATH LAYING AT WWII MEMORIAL
The National Park Service and the Friends of the World War II Memorial commemorated the anniversary with a ceremony and wreath laying at the World War II Memorial in Washington. D-Day veterans, along with representatives from the Allied Nations that participated in the Normandy Campaign, took part in laying wreaths along the Memorial’s Freedom Wall. Participants also included Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Elliot “Toby” Roosevelt III, great-grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
VETS AT WWII MEMORIAL
Dozens of veterans who fought on D-Day were present at the World War II Memorial ceremony in Washington. Navy veteran Frank Shea, 88, of Clifton, New Jersey, was a radio operator with a Navy ship on D-Day. His job was to relay the situation on the beach back to headquarters. He said he felt proud on Friday to be recognized for his service. “When I got out of the Navy, I had to hitchhike home, with a seabag on my shoulder. That’s the kind of celebration they were giving,” Shea said. “This is very nice. It’s very ornamental, and I appreciate it.”
PARACHUTE JUMP AT FORT BRAGG
Fort Bragg is marking the anniversary with a parachute jump involving more than 300 paratroopers in the skies over North Carolina. Paratroopers from Fort Bragg’s 82nd Airborne Division were among the first soldiers to fight in Normandy. The Fort Bragg soldiers are receiving history presentation about the D-Day operation and watch a video before donning their parachutes and jumping onto the post’s Normandy Drop Zone.
AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT DEMONSTRATION AT WORLD WAR II TRAINING BASE
The Navy had an amphibious assault demonstration at one of the bases that was used to help train the assault boat coxswains and others who went ashore on D-Day. Hundreds of sailors and Marines attended the beachside ceremony at Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia. About a dozen military craft participated in a demonstration of what it looks like for the military to storm a beach in the modern era.
HISTORIC WARSHIP SALUTES ANNIVERSARY
The nation’s oldest commissioned warship and the Massachusetts National Guard teamed up to salute the anniversary. The USS Constitution, whose service dates back to 1797, left its berth in Charlestown Navy Yard and sailed to Castle Island to fire a cannon salute to the historic Fort Independence fortification on Boston Harbor. The National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment fired its ceremonial cannons in return. The custom dates to 1797, when the new USS Constitution saluted the fort, which had transferred that year from the state to U.S. government service.