The US president Barack Obama joined the leaders of Britain and France and hundreds of Second World War veterans today to mark the 65th anniversary of D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. Speaking to 9,000 guests and 200 US D-Day veterans at a clifftop graveyard in northern France which has become a symbol of America's sacrifice for Europe's freedom, Mr Obama vowed the world would never forget the dead of D-Day. "At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found within themselves the ability to do something extraordinary," Mr Obama said. "It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide."
Mr Obama and his wife Michelle flew from Paris to the Normandy city of Caen where they were be greeted by Mr Sarkozy and First Lady Carla Bruni for lunch and a bilateral meeting. Both presidential couples then went to the American war cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, which overlooks the sand dunes where Allied troops opened a new western front against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. "We will never forget the pain or the extent of the suffering and may we never renounce the dream of peace and justice for humanity," the French president Nicolas Sarkozy said, in an opening address.
Mr Obama's Normandy visit concluded a history-laden tour of Europe that took in the German concentration camp of Buchenwald and the city of Dresden, flattened by Allied bombs in February 1945 killing an estimated 35,000 people. After paying homage to the 9,387 American soldiers buried in Colleville, he will spend Saturday night in Paris and head back to Washington tomorrow. The British prime minister Gordon Brown, Prince Charles and the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper joined him at the American cemetery, which has been signed over by France to the United States in perpetuity.
With most now veterans aged 85 or more, organisers are aware this may be the last time large numbers of ex-servicemen can attend. British, Canadian and US divisions, plus units from France and other occupied countries, crossed the Channel at dawn on June 6, 1944, to storm beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword. In what remains the biggest amphibious assault in history, by the end of day one some 156,000 Allied personnel had been landed in France.
An estimated 10,000 Allied troops were left dead, wounded or missing, while Germany lost between 4,000 and 9,000, and thousands of French civilians were killed. *AFP