Selenskyj on D-Day visit – World War veteran honors Ukraine president

Selenskyj on D-Day visit – World War veteran honors Ukraine president

On the 80th anniversary of D-Day, President Macron received several heads of state, including Ukrainian President Zelensky. During the event, there was a touching encounter with a World War II veteran.

At several commemorations of the Allied landings in Normandy 80 years ago, US President Joe Biden and other heads of state paid tribute to the last surviving soldiers of D-Day. At the same time, they called for the defense of democracy. “We know the dark forces that these heroes fought against 80 years ago. They never go away,” Biden said on Thursday at a ceremony at the US military cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer in northern France.

Democracy and freedom are still in danger today, warned the US President. He referred to the war that is raging in Europe today: Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj attended the D-Day anniversary in Normandy. Numerous elderly veterans also attended.

On June 6, 1944, Allied soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy. D-Day marked the beginning of the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi rule (“Operation Overlord”). But it also represents inhuman bloodshed, tens of thousands of dead and wounded. The Allied forces at the time were mainly Americans, British, Canadians, Poles and French. Around 3,100 landing craft with more than 150,000 soldiers made their way to northern France.

On the evening of D-Day, the Allies recorded losses of around 12,000 men, including around 4,400 dead. The number of German wounded, missing and killed is estimated at between 4,000 and 9,000. In the further course of “Operation Overlord” up to the capture of Paris a few months later, 200,000 Germans and 70,000 Allies are said to have lost their lives. Up to 20,000 civilians died in the devastated Normandy.

The heroes of yesteryear

Of the soldiers who survived the operation, not many are still alive 80 years later. Around 170 veterans took part in the ceremony at the US military cemetery with Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron – all well over 90, some even over 100 years old. When the next major D-Day commemoration takes place in five years, many of them will probably no longer be alive. This made their appearance on Thursday all the more touching.

The approximately 170 veterans were brought onto the stage one by one at the event in Colleville-sur-Mer, accompanied by relatives and medical assistants. Most of the veterans were in wheelchairs, some walked onto the stage with support. Some saluted, waved, lifted their caps in greeting, and many themselves appeared emotional at the huge celebrations. Tens of thousands of visitors came to the cemetery grounds and paid tribute to these men – and some women – and honored each of them with long-lasting applause.

80 years ago, they were all young men who risked their lives in a military operation that had never been seen before and whose outcome was uncertain. They saw comrades drown in the sea off the coast or be torn to pieces by bullets on land. The sea of ​​white crosses in the US military cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, with its 9,388 American soldiers’ graves, is a reminder of the devastating scenes that took place here at the time – and how many did not survive the operation.

The fight for democracy continues

“The men who fought here became heroes,” Biden said. The soldiers knew at the time that they were in great danger of dying. And they fought anyway. “Freedom is worth it, democracy is worth it,” he said. “Then, now and always.”

Biden complained that democracy is more at risk worldwide than it ever was after the Allied landings in Normandy. The US President complained that aggressiveness and greed, the desire to dominate and control and to violently shift borders, still exist today. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine shows this. People must ask themselves today whether they will stand up against tyranny and evil and defend freedom and democracy together. “My answer is yes and it can only be yes.” Every generation must defend democracy and fight for it. This cannot be done alone – but together with allies, as was the case back then.

French President Macron also stressed: “We know that freedom must be fought for anew every morning.” He thanked the fighters of that time. They had left everything behind and taken great risks – “for our independence, for our freedom,” he said. “We will not forget that.” France is now their home. Macron awarded several elderly US veterans the Knights of the Legion of Honor for their service at the time. In view of the return of war in Europe, we should show ourselves worthy of the D-Day fighters.

The British King Charles III also paid tribute to the efforts of the Allied soldiers at a memorial event in Ver-sur-Mer, France. “Many of them never came home,” said the 75-year-old. “They lost their lives on the landing beaches of D-Day and in the many battles that followed.” The lesson from that time was: “Free nations must stand together to resist tyranny.”

A special moment

At another large international memorial event on the nearby beach of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer – on the so-called Omaha Beach – heads of state and government remembered D-Day and paid tribute to the fighters of that time. In addition to Macron and Biden, those present included Zelenskyj, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as representatives of the British and Dutch royal families. No representative from Russia was invited – because of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

At the ceremony in Omaha Beach, as at the other commemorations, the focus was on the D-Day survivors, and the new war in the middle of Europe loomed over everything. Several heads of state and government greeted veterans and shook their hands. During an exchange between an elderly veteran and Zelensky, a special scene occurred: The old man took the Ukrainian president’s hand and kissed it. “You are the savior of the people,” said the veteran in the wheelchair. Zelensky pulled his hand away, almost ashamed, quickly bent down to the veteran, hugged him and said: “No, you saved Europe.”

Source: Stern

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