U.S. military leaders honor WWII veterans on 79th anniversary of D-Day

Representatives from around the world gathered in Normandy to commemorate the 79th anniversary of D-Day on Tuesday. Photo by Ludovic Marin/EPA-EFE
Representatives from around the world gathered in Normandy to commemorate the 79th anniversary of D-Day on Tuesday. Photo by Ludovic Marin/EPA-EFE

June 6 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley delivered speeches at a ceremony in Normandy on Tuesday to mark the 79th anniversary of D-Day.

The American leaders were among hundreds of representatives from around the world who gathered at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, to commemorate the largest military invasion in history that ultimately led to the end of World War II.


The event paid tribute to surviving veterans and honored thousands more who died in the battle as the world united to defeat the Nazis.

The event was sponsored by the U.S. Army V Corps, which is a tactical unit based at Fort Knox and at Camp Kosciuszko in Poland.


V Corps commander Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater and Denise Bauer, the U.S. ambassador to France, were in attendance, alongside other senior French military officers, as well as local business and civic leaders.

Milley led a round of applause for a group of 45 aging U.S. veterans before he recalled the bravery and sacrifice of troops who stormed the 50-mile-wide beachhead on June 6, 1944, and won the battle against overwhelming odds.

"Today we honor more than 150,000 Allied soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy 79 years ago," Milley said. "It's a day of profound significance in the history of the world, for it was a day that began the liberation of France from Nazi tyranny."

Milley said Allied forces prepared for the invasion for two years, which led to the deployment of 6,000 warships. It remains the largest armada ever launched in world history.

The highly decorated general shared moving survival stories that recalled the extraordinary bravery of the veterans.

"Exceptional soldiers in every single way," Milley said as he honored men and women who are still "with us today."

"It is you and your generation that has given us the freedom that we enjoy," he said before turning and saluting the group.


A crowd of about 250 people attended the ceremony, including a military band, an honor guard, along with "Ivy Soldiers" from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division.

Austin spoke later in the ceremony, saying the historic invasion was necessary as "France and much of the rest of Europe lay beneath the Nazi boot."

In his speech, Austin related a story about the night before the launch of Operation Overlord, when "Gen. [Dwight] Eisenhower met with troops from the 101st Airborne, and some thought he looked nervous," Austin said. "But one soldier called out, 'Now quit worrying, general. We'll take care of this thing for you.' And they did."

Later in the ceremony, each representative came forward individually to present floral arrangements to honor the dead and to salute the seated group of veterans.

A trio sang a hymn before troops lined up and fired their weapons into the air three times as part of a formal gun salute.

On June 6, 1944, American, Canadian and British troops landed on the French Normandy coast and battled their way into the streets of ancient Caen within a few hours.

Under Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery, the Allied troops -- many of them seasick after their channel trip in bad weather -- fought ashore through waist-deep mud and slime past underwater obstacles of concrete and wood, capped with deadly mines, to make the landing.


The massive assault by land, air and sea was perhaps the most pivotal event of the war as the Allies sought to liberate Western Europe, which had fallen into the hands of the wildly ambitious Nazi fuhrer Adolph Hitler.

D-Day, however, was a major turning point in the war that had been ongoing for five years after Germany invaded Poland in 1939 before conquering Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, while also establishing Nazi control over most of eastern Europe and even parts of the former Soviet Union.

The initial invasion, which liberated France, established a vital foothold for the Allies in Europe and marked the beginning of the end of Hitler's territorial expansion and his ultimate goal of global domination.

The oldest living American veteran of World War II died in January 2022 at the age of 112.

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