Normandy commemorates D-Day with small crowds, but big heart

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World War II reenactors gather on Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, Sunday, June 6, 2021, the day of 77th anniversary of the assault that helped bring an end to World War II. While France is planning to open up to vaccinated visitors starting next week, that comes too late for the D-Day anniversary. So for the second year in a row, most public commemoration events have been cancelled. (AP Photo/David Vincent)

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER – COLLEVILLE-SUR-When the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of wet sand extending toward distant cliffs, one starts to grasp the immensity of the task faced by Allied soldiers on June 6, 1944, landing on the Nazi-occupied Normandy shore.

The 77th anniversary of D-Day was marked Sunday with several events to commemorate the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control, and honor those who fell.

“These are the men who enabled liberty to regain a foothold on the European continent, and who in the days and weeks that followed lifted the shackles of tyranny, hedgerow by Normandy hedgerow, mile by bloody mile," Britain's ambassador to France, Lord Edward Llewellyn, said at the inauguration of a new British monument to D-Day's heroes.

On D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. This year on June 6, the beaches stood vast and nearly empty as the sun emerged, exactly 77 years since the dawn invasion.

For the second year in a row, anniversary commemorations are marked by virus travel restrictions that prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the U.S., Britain, Canada and other Allied countries from making the trip to France. Only a few officials were allowed exceptions.

At the newly-built British Normandy Memorial near the village of Ver-sur-Mer, bagpipes played memorial tunes and warplanes zipped overhead trailing red-white-and-blue smoke. Socially distanced participants stood in awe at the solemnity and serenity of the site, providing a spectacular and poignant view over Gold Beach and the English Channel.

The new monument pays tribute to those under British command who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy.

A text carved on the wall writes: “They died so that Europe might be free.”