COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France – They had rushed these shores of Normandy 70 years ago in a daring gambit to expel despotism from Europe, and Friday they returned as members of a disappearing generation to commemorate D-Day.
More than 200 D-Day veterans gathered at Omaha Beach in northern France to reflect on their sacrifices and salute their country. But as President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and Russian President Vladimir Putin honored them and other World War II veterans, there was a palpable sense that the 90-year-olds standing proudly on stage, or sitting in wheelchairs, might be gathering here for the last time.
Obama and French President Francois Hollande delivered stirring tributes under a blue, sunny sky, the rolling waves of the ocean providing a calm antidote to the violent moment when Allied forces besieged this land and began the liberation of France.
F-15 fighter jets flew above in missing-man formation, and 14,000 people stood in honor.
The D-Day invasion accelerated the end of the war in Europe and helped alter the course of history.
Yet for people on both sides of the Atlantic, the 70th D-Day anniversary unfolded against a backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine, which some Western leaders say is a sign that the fight for democracy in Europe is not yet over.