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World leaders pay tribute to D-Day veterans at 65th anniversary

WORLD leaders gathered in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer in northern France yesterday to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day landing that broke Nazi Germany's grip on France and changed the course of history.

Some 200 veterans who survived the 1944 allied landings in Normandy attended the high-profile event with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, US President Barack Obama, Britain's Prince Charles, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well as 9,000 other guests.

According to French TV channel TF1, US and French flags are fluttering beside the bone-white crosses beneath which 9,387 soldiers lie. Rolling in wheelchairs or trudging with canes, the veterans visited the memorial wearing uniforms and unit hats bedecked with medals and battle ribbons.

A 21-cannon salute boomed out over cliff top graveyard overlooking the Omaha Beach and the playing of taps sent tears streaming down the veterans' weathered cheeks.

Sarkozy hailed the courage of allied soldiers and their sacrifice for France, saying "We cannot name them all, those heroes to whom we owe so much. They were so many, but we shall never forget them."

"It was unknowable then," Obama said in a speech, "but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide."

"Had the Allies failed here, Hitler's occupation of this continent might have continued indefinitely." the US president added.

Brown, who mistakenly referred to Omaha Beach as "Obama Beach", said "this is the place where you can chart the war's end and the start of a new world."

"As the numbers of this our greatest generation dwindles, we ask ourselves how can we honor them, how can we ever thank them," Harper said, "There is only one answer: to carry the torch from their falling hands and carry it high."

During the ceremony, French President Sarkozy also awarded four veterans the Legion of Honor, France's highest award.

The Normandy Landings, commenced on June 6, 1944 (D-Day), were the first operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy. The Omaha Beach is one of the five sectors where the landings took place.

Some 156,000 Allied troops landed in France on June 6, 1944, while an estimated 10,000 were left dead, wounded or missing. Germany lost between 4,000 and 9,000, and thousands of French civilians were killed. At Omaha Beach alone, 3,881 soldiers died.

Numbers of the battle's veterans are dwindling as they are reaching their 80s and 90s. In the speech, Obama told the story of Jim Norene of the 101st Airborne Division, who died in sleep Friday night "after visiting this cemetery for one last time."


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