COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — Men who stormed Normandy's shore 70 years ago joined world leaders Friday in paying tribute to the 150,000 Allied troops who risked and lost their lives in the D-Day landings in Nazi-occupied France, in a day of international commemorations of history's biggest amphibious invasion.
They are honoring the troops and civilians who fell in mighty battles that helped bring Europe peace and unity — just as bloodshed in Ukraine is posing new challenges to European security and threatening a new East-West divide.
As the sun rose Friday over a gusty Omaha Beach, flags flew at half-staff. A U.S. military band played Taps, while D-Day veterans from the 29th Infantry Division and serving soldiers stood at attention at exactly 6:30 a.m., the moment on June 6, 1944, when Allied troops first waded ashore.
"Twenty-nine, let's go!" they shouted, then downed shots of Calvados, Normandy apple brandy.
Hundreds of Normandy residents and other onlookers applauded the veterans, then began forming a human chain on the beach.
World leaders and dignitaries including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II are converging on Normandy to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day troops who risked and gave their lives to defeat Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
The D-Day invasion was a turning point in World War II, cracking Hitler's western front as the Soviet troops made advances in the east. Overall at least 4,400 Allied troops were killed the first day, and many thousands more in the ensuing three-month Battle of Normandy, which brought the Allies to Paris to liberate the French capital from Nazi occupation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is also in attendance, invited by French President Francois Hollande in a gesture toward the 27 million Soviet citizens killed in World War II.