As the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of wet sand that stretch out toward distant cliffs, one begins to understand the immensity of the task Allied soldiers faced on June 6, 1944 when landing on the Normandy coast. occupied by the Nazis.
Several ceremonies are scheduled on Sunday to mark the 77th anniversary of the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control and to honor the fallen.
On D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on the beaches codenamed Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold, carried by 7,000 ships. This year, on June 6, the beaches remained vast and empty when the sun rose, exactly 77 years since the dawn invasion.
For the second year in a row, the anniversary commemorations are marked by virus travel restrictions that have prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the United States, Britain, Canada and other allied countries from traveling to France. Only a few officials were allowed exceptions.
Most public events have been canceled and official ceremonies are limited to a small number of selected guests and dignitaries.
‘A great loss’
Denis van den Brink, a World War II expert working for the city of Carentan, the site of a strategic battle near Utah Beach, acknowledged the “great loss, the great absence is all the veterans who were unable to travel.”
“That really hurts us a lot because everyone is around 95, 100 years old and we hope they last forever. But, you know … ”he said.
“At least we maintain a certain spirit of commemoration, which is the most important,” he told The Associated Press.
During the anniversary weekend, many local residents have come out to visit the monuments that mark key moments in the fighting and show their gratitude to the soldiers. Dozens of French WWII history enthusiasts, and some travelers from neighboring European countries, could also be seen riding jeeps and military vehicles on the small roads of Normandy.
Just a few kilometers (miles) from Omaha Beach, the British Normandy Memorial will open on Sunday outside the town of Ver-sur-Mer. Visitors are amazed at the solemnity and serenity of the place, which offers a spectacular view of Gold Beach and the English Channel.
The monument, built under a project launched in 2016, pays tribute to those under British command who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy. The names of more than 22,000 men and women, mostly British soldiers, are written on its stone columns.
Walls of the missing
Later on Sunday, another ceremony will be held at the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. 96-year-old Charles Shay, a Penobscot Native American now living in Normandy, is expected to be the only veteran present in person.
Some other veterans and soldier families will be able to watch the broadcast on social media.
The cemetery contains 9,380 graves, the majority of military personnel who lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent operations. Another 1,557 names are inscribed on the Walls of the Disappeared.
Normandy has more than 20 military cemeteries housing mostly American, German, French, British, Canadian and Polish soldiers who participated in the historic battle.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism