Vets, visitors flock to Normandy to remember D-Day

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Vets, visitors flock to Normandy to remember D-Day
RANVILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 05: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales meets veterans near Pegasus Bridge (Also known as the Bénouville Bridge - The taking of the Bridge was an important strategic victory) during D-Day Commemorations on June 5, 2014 in Ranville, France. Friday 6th June is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which saw 156,000 troops from the allied countries including the United Kingdom and the United States join forces to launch an audacious attack on the beaches of Normandy, these assaults are credited with the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. A series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary are planned for the week with many heads of state travelling to the famous beaches to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. (Photo by Chris Jackson - Pool/Getty Images)
US soldiers take pictures of their military planes during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers on June 5, 2014 in Picauville, northern France. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of the vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD (Photo credit should read JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images)
French 1st RCP paratrooper carrying Italian flag is seen over Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France, on June 5, 2014, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. FP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)
US veteran Edward Oleksak looks on during a US-German D-Day commemoration ceremony in honour of airborne soldiers on June 5, 2014 in Picauville, northern France. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of the vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD (Photo credit should read JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of several crowns of poppies placed on the ground at Bayeux's war cemetery, on June 5, 2014, in northern France, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
PICAUVILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 05: Red, whie and blue balloons are released during a ceremony honoring those who fought in the Normandy campaign on the day before the 70th anniversary of D-Day June 5, 2014 in Picauville, France. June 6th is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which saw 156,000 troops from the allied countries including the United States and the United Kingdom join forces to launch an attack on the beaches of Normandy, these assaults are credited with the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. A series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary is planned for the week with many heads of state travelling to the famous beaches to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
British World War II veteran Anthony Pratt (front), 89, from the Royal Marines, and British World War II veteran Frederick Wyatt (back), 92, from the 48th Royal Commando Dragoon Guard, visit Bayeux's war cemetery, on June 5, 2014, in northern France, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Hercules C-130 plane flies over flags at Sword beach in Ouistreham, northern France, on June 5, 2014, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / DAMIEN MEYER (Photo credit should read DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images)
PICAUVILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 05: French schoolchildren wave as a World War II era plane performs a flyby during a ceremony honoring those who fought in the Normandy campaign on the day before the 70th anniversary of D-Day June 5, 2014 in Picauville, France. June 6th is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which saw 156,000 troops from the allied countries including the United States and the United Kingdom join forces to launch an attack on the beaches of Normandy, these assaults are credited with the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. A series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary is planned for the week with many heads of state travelling to the famous beaches to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
British World War II veteran Peter Georges Thompson poses for a photograph as he attends a D-Day ceremony rehearsal, in the morning in Arromanches, western France, on June 5, 2014, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / LUDOVIC MARIN (Photo credit should read LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images)
British World War II veteran Frederick Wyatt (R), 92, from the 48th Royal Commando Dragoon Guard, explains the meaning of his decorations to a choir boy (L) of the St John's College Choir of Cambridge, on June 5, 2014 in Bayeux, northern France, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
British World War II veteran Frank James, 95, from the 4/1th Royal Dragoon Guard, looks on during his visit at Bayeux's war cemetery, northern France, on June 5, 2014, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
British soldiers stand next to their weapons placed on the ground, in front of Bayeux's war cemetery, northern France, on June 5, 2014, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
RANVILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 05: Pipers march past Cafe Gondree, the Pegasus Bridge Cafe, the first house in France to be liberated during the last hour of 5th June 1944, during D-Day Commemorations on June 5, 2014 in Ranville, France. Friday 6th June is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings which saw 156,000 troops from the allied countries including the United Kingdom and the United States join forces to launch an audacious attack on the beaches of Normandy, these assaults are credited with the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. A series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary are planned for the week with many heads of state travelling to the famous beaches to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
British World War II veteran Harry Humphreys, 92, from the 4th Royal Dragoon Guard, reacts after his visit at Bayeux's war cemetery, while an old allied military vehicle passes by, in northern France, on June 5, 2014, a day before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
ARROMANCHES, FRANCE - JUNE 04: A D-Day re-enactment Czech enthusiast dressed as World War II American soldier watches World War II-era plane flies overhead from the beach on June 4, 2014 in Arromanches, France. Friday the 6th of June is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings that saw 156,000 troops from the Allied countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, join forces to launch an audacious attack on the beaches of Normandy, these assaults are credited with the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. A series of events commemorating the 70th anniversary are planned for the week with many heads of state travelling to the famous beaches to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
British World War II veterans visit the war cemetery of Ranville, northwestern France, on June 4, 2014, two days before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD (Photo credit should read JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP/Getty Images)
Young Britons walk past tombstones at the Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux, northern France, on June 4, 2014, two days before the start of the D-Day commemorations. The D-Day ceremonies on June 6 this year mark the 70th anniversary since the launch of 'Operation Overlord', a vast military operation by Allied forces in Normandy, which turned the tide of World War II, eventually leading to the liberation of occupied France and the end of the war against Nazi Germany. AFP PHOTO / JEAN FRANCOIS MONIER (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
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COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) - Ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day are drawing thousands of visitors to the cemeteries, beaches and stone-walled villages of Normandy this week, including some of the few remaining survivors of the largest sea-borne invasion ever mounted.

World leaders and dignitaries including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II will gather to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day veterans who risked and gave their lives to defeat Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

For many visitors, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial with its 9,387 white marble tombstones on a bluff overlooking the site of the battle's bloodiest fighting at Omaha Beach is the emotional centerpiece of pilgrimages to honor the tens of thousands of men killed on D-Day and the months of fighting afterward.

D-Day veteran Clair Martin, 93, said he's come back to Omaha Beach three times in the last 70 years - "four if you count the time they were shooting at me."

The San Diego, California resident landed on D-Day with the 29th Infantry Division and said he kept fighting until he reached the Elbe River in Germany the following April. "I praise God I made it and that we've never had another World War," he said.

Ceremonies large and small are taking place across Normandy, ahead of an international summit on Friday in Ouistreham, a small port that was the site of a strategic battle on D-Day. French President Francois Hollande's decision to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to participate in the official ceremony despite his exclusion from the G-7 summit in Brussels is being seen by some as justified recognition of the Soviet Union's great sacrifice in defeating Hitler, but by others as a distraction given the West's dispute with Russia over Ukraine.

With many D-Day veterans now in their 90s, this year's anniversary has the added poignancy of being the last time that many of those who took part in the battle will be able to make the long journey back to Normandy and tell their stories.

"Three minutes after landing a mortar blew up next to me and I lost my K-rations," said Curtis Outen, 92, of Pageland, South Carolina. Outen, making his first return to Normandy since the war, related the loss of his military-issued meal packet as though it happened yesterday. "Then I cut my arm in the barbed wire entanglements. After that I was all right."

By midmorning hundreds of visitors walked among the cemetery's long rows of white crosses and stars of David. Schoolchildren and retirees, soldiers in uniform and veterans in wheelchairs quietly move from grave to grave, pausing to read the brief inscriptions that can only give hints of the lives laid to rest there:

Edward H. Gesner, Pvt 116 Inf, 29 Div, Massachussets, July 1 1944.

Richard Frank Geigner, PFC 298 Engr Combat Bn, Illinois, June 6, 1944.

Louis Carter Jr, Pvt 8 Inf 4 Div, New Jersey, July 26, 1944.

One young woman stood quietly in soft rain, hand over her heart, and tearfully placed a red rose at a tombstone which read "Here Rests in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms Known But to God."

"I just wanted to pay tribute,"said Marissa Neitling, 30, of Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Nearby, retired lawyer Paul Clifford of Boston kneeled silently and placed a bouquet of red, white and blue flowers at the grave of Walter J. Gunther Jr., a paratrooper of the 101st Airborne Division killed on D-Day.

Clifford said the grave belonged to a relative of his best friend in Boston. The friend has never been able to travel to Normandy to visit the grave, so Clifford has come each June for the last 10 years to pay respect.

"He was my best friend's uncle. When he came down his parachute got caught in the branches. He never made it out of the trees," said Clifford.

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