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05/06/24 | 11:09 am

Eighty years on, British D-Day veterans sail to Normandy once again

British veterans sailed on Tuesday to Normandy where, 80 years ago this week, they fought to liberate France as part of D-Day, preparing to taking part in ceremonies marking a major turning point of World War Two.

The special voyage was part of celebrations for D-Day’s 80th anniversary, likely to be the last marked on a grand scale in the presence of those who fought in 1944. About 200 veterans, most American and British, are expected to take part.

With war raging on Europe’s borders, this week’s D-Day ceremonies carry special resonance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be among Thursday’s guests.

“Thank you. I’m happy to be here,” one veteran, Joe Mines, said after he and some two dozen other veterans – the star passengers onboard the Mont St. Michel ferry – arrived in Ouistreham, France.

They were welcomed by bagpipe players, and three veterans handed a commemorative torch to youths in front of the ferry.

The ferry had set off from Portsmouth, the main departure point for the 5,000 ships that headed to Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword, the beaches made famous by the June 6, 1944, operation.

Surrounded by naval ships and civilian boats, it was waved off by small crowds who lined the docks, as tugboats sprayed water, a traditional tribute. A wreath-laying ceremony took place during the trip to remember those who did not make it to shore. About 4,400 Allied troops died on D-Day.

John Dennett, 99, told the BBC he was looking forward to the ceremonies of the coming days. “It’s a chance of a lifetime. Eighty years ago, it’s a long time, going back, to see what we started,” he said.

Aged between 97 and 103, many of the veterans had walking sticks or were in wheelchairs, and wore military medals pinned to their lapels.

‘REMEMBER’

Earlier in the day, dozens of elderly U.S. veterans paid tribute to their fallen World War Two comrades in the U.S. cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer, also in Normandy.

“It’s our duty to remember them and make sure people realise how evil the world can become if you do not really take care,” 99-year-old veteran Colonel Joe Peterburs told Reuters.

An Army Air Force pilot during World War Two, Peterburs did not take part in D-Day but began combat missions aged 19 and was made a prisoner in Germany when his plane was shot down. He managed to escape and went on to serve in the military for 36 years, including stints in Korea and Vietnam.

“I see all the graves. The bravery and the sacrifice of these men killed in their youth who could not live a full life,” he said, as he looked from his wheelchair at row after row of white marble crosses – some with names, some unmarked – that show the toll that history’s largest amphibious invasion took on allied forces.

“He feels a lot of survival guilt. He prays every night for all (those) that he left behind,” said his granddaughter, Sabrina Peterburs, who travelled with him. “It’s very emotional to be here with him and the other veterans and see the gratefulness of French people.”

The French army conducted an exercise at dawn with dozens of soldiers landing on Omaha Beach, re-enacting D-Day.

“We think of the dead, those who came before us,” said Lieutenant Jeremy from the French Legion’s 13th Demi-Brigade. “We are happy to honour our elders by doing what they did 80 years ago.”

(REUTERS)

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