World leaders paid tribute to veterans and pledged to continue to stand for democracy as they marked the 80th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings, when more than 150,000 Allied soldiers invaded France by sea and air to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany.

   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.

   “Our admiration is eternal,” Britain’s King Charles, in full military uniform, said at a British ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer which opened the day’s tributes. “Let us pray such sacrifice will never be made again.”

   With war raging in Ukraine on Europe’s borders, the anniversary of this turning point in World War Two carries special resonance.

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

   “We recall the lesson that comes to us again and again across the decades: free nations must stand together to oppose tyranny,” said Charles, who spoke in both French and English.

   Some 200 veterans, most of them American or British, were taking 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. Thousands of soldiers from Britain, the United States, Canada and other nations were killed, as well as their German foes.

   French President Emmanuel Macron presented a Legion d’Honneur award, France’s highest honor, to Christian Lamb, a 103-year-old member of the wartime British female naval service who helped plan the landings, describing her as “a hero in the shadows.”

    “You have set us an example, which we’ll not forget. France will never forget the British troops who landed on D-Day and all their brothers in arms,” he said.

   At a ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer, where row after row of white marble crosses — some with names, some unmarked — show the toll the invasion took on allied forces, Macron awarded the Legion d’Honneur to U.S. veterans, many in wheelchairs, sporting caps that read “WWII veteran.”

   “You are back here today at home, if I may say,” Macron told American veterans in English, saying France would not forget their sacrifice.

   Earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden met with the veterans, giving salutes, handshakes and hugs to the men. He and his wife Jill took photos with the veterans and the president gave them each special commemorative coins.

   Underlining the frail health of many veterans, the U.S. Embassy said the last surviving Native American veteran was gravely ill.

   Moving letters from veterans were read out at the British ceremony, where veterans were applauded as they filed into the event to take their seats, which were decorated with bright red poppies.

   “I want to pay my respects to those who didn’t make it. May they rest in peace,” veteran Joe Mines said, in words read by actor Martin Freeman. “I was 19 when I landed, but I was still a boy … and I didn’t have any idea of war and killing.”

   After the ceremony, Charles, Macron and their wives chatted and shook hands with veterans and other guests.

   Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many others will take part in the day of tributes.

   But Russia, which invaded Ukraine in 2022, touching off Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War Two, was not invited.

   Leaders were set to adopt on Thursday a declaration saying democracy was once more under threat in Europe and promising to defend freedom and democracy, two sources said.

   Earlier in the day, as the sun rose in Arromanches-les-Bains, one of the beaches where Allied troops came ashore 80 years ago, small crowds filtered onto the beach to watch a collection of World War Two jeeps and an amphibious vehicle coming ashore carrying a bagpiper playing a lament.

   At Omaha Beach, the largest of the D-Day landing areas, where about 2,400 U.S. servicemen lost their lives on June 6, 1944, more than 20 heads of state and government were due to attend an international ceremony later in the day.

   Landing craft were in place to reenact part of the landings, while several warships and patrol boats anchored on the horizon.

   At a Canadian ceremony, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We must all continue to stand for democracy day in day out, we owe it for future generations.”

   Prince William, speaking at the same ceremony, said: “Standing here today, in peaceful silence, it is almost impossible to grasp the courage it would have taken to run into the fury of battle that very day.”


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