- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France — More than 1,000 British and American troops parachuted into northwestern France yesterday as war veterans and tourists recalled D-Day in a festive atmosphere on the beaches where 60 years ago Allied forces met brutal Nazi resistance.

In all, 16 countries were to be represented by their heads of state or government — including President Bush — at today’s formal ceremonies.

For the first time they included Germany, which had 75,000 men killed in the two-month battle for Normandy, and Russia, which had long urged the Western allies to invade so as to relieve pressure on the eastern front.

Yesterday, some 600 gray parachutes blossomed in lead-gray skies in a spectacular re-enactment of the capture of the village of Sainte-Mere-Eglise by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division on June 6, 1944.

Later, as British paratroopers re-enacted the legendary operation to take Pegasus Bridge at Benouville some 60 miles to the east, the sun came out, belying the memory of the foul weather that delayed the original invasion by a day.

The two villages stand at the extremities of the five beaches — code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword — and were crucial to protecting the flanks of the largest seaborne invasion in history, involving 135,000 troops.

Some 4,000 Allied troops were killed on the first day and another 55,000 were to die in the Normandy campaign.

In one of the most poignant ceremonies, British veterans cast 1 million poppies into the sea, which streaked out in long eddies recalling the blood of their comrades cut down by machine-gun fire as they waded ashore.

But for the most part, the atmosphere was one of a holiday weekend.

Many veterans were accompanied by their grandchildren, who mingled with French villagers or with the military memorabilia collectors who turned up in reconditioned military vehicles, dressed in World War II uniforms.

At Pegasus Bridge, Britain’s Prince Charles unveiled a replica of one of the three Horsa gliders that flew in darkness and crash-landed at 16 minutes after midnight nearby in a surprise attack that has entered the annals of military history.

They were among 380 British gliders that floated down into Normandy that night.

Earlier, in Colleville, Charles unveiled a statue of Brig. James Hill, at 93 the oldest surviving senior officer who took part in the landings.

A former British paratroop colonel, Nick Nichols, summed up the feelings of many veterans about the German participation in this year’s commemoration: “Some wounds will never be healed, but we recognize that many of them died and we should give them time and space to remember too. Many of them fought gallantly and after all they were soldiers.”

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who lost his father in the war, wrote a letter in the newspaper Ouest France. “The Germany which had to be defeated in this war to end the Nazi nightmare is no longer the same country which I have the honor to represent today in these ceremonies,” he wrote.

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