Spectre of European war stalks D-Day 80th anniversary

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“There are things worth fighting for,” said one World War II veteran. “Although I wish there was another way to do it than to try to kill each other.”

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World War II veterans joined heads of state and others to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday.

The Allied invasion, which began on 6 June, 1944, led to the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the war.

The assault on the beaches began with Allied aircraft bombing German defenses in Normandy, followed by around 1,200 aircraft that carried airborne troops.

As dawn broke, Allied forces started bombing German coastal defenses and shortly after that vessels began putting troops ashore on five codenamed beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

By the end of the day, nearly 160,000 Allied troops had landed in Normandy, although there were thousands of casualties.

Ever-dwindling numbers of World War II veterans have pilgrimaged back to France, while Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has dashed hopes that lives and cities wouldn’t again be laid to waste in Europe.

As now-centenarian veterans revisit old memories and fallen comrades buried in Normandy graves, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presence at D-Day commemorations with world leaders — including US President Joe Biden — who are supporting his country’s fight against Russia’s invasion will inevitably fuse together World War II’s awful past with the fraught present on Thursday.

With the dead and wounded on both sides in Ukraine estimated in the hundreds of thousands, commemorations for the more than 4,400 Allied dead on D-Day and many tens of thousands more, including French civilians, killed in the ensuing Battle of Normandy are tinged with concerns that World War II lessons are being lost.

“There are things worth fighting for,” said World War II veteran Walter Stitt, who fought in tanks and turns 100 in July, as he visited Omaha Beach this week. “Although I wish there was another way to do it than to try to kill each other.”

“We’ll learn one of these days, but I won’t be around for that,” he said.



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