Normandy Honors Memories of D-Day Landings
Tuesday, June 6, 2006; 2:49 PM
ASNELLES-SUR-MER, France -- American and British veterans marked the 62nd anniversary of the D-Day landings Tuesday with ceremonies and talks to schoolchildren about the invasion that changed the course of World War II.
Hundreds of relatives and others joined at least two dozen veterans to remember the June 6, 1944, invasion on Normandy's beaches that helped free France _ and much of Europe _ from Nazi Germany's grip.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge laid a wreath along with the U.S. ambassador to France at the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, where thousands of crosses and Stars of David mark soldiers' graves on a finely groomed lawn.
At Utah Beach, where thousands of Americans stormed ashore, about 150 people gathered for a ceremony to honor veterans from the 101st Airborne Division under blue skies.
"The weather wasn't like this 62 years ago," recalled Bill Thornan, 86, who landed on a nearby beach on D-Day and was among more than a dozen American veterans at the ceremony in Saint-Marie du Mont.
Others remembered how the airborne drop by the 101st went awry for some American parachutists: They landed behind German lines, but outside the planned drop zones.
"I remember insulting the pilot of our plane because he didn't drop us in the right area," recalled Jack Dickson, 83.
He also said the anniversary is an important time to reflect. "I hope I'll be here next year to send this message to future generations: Never forget the horror of war _ and never forget that men died on these Normandy beaches to free the world."
U.S. reservists _ including some who served in Iraq and Afghanistan _ took part in commemorative parachute jumps Sunday and Monday ahead of the anniversary.
"It's a very special day in history, when the United States, with the British and the Canadians, outfoxed the Nazis," U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton told The Associated Press. "Any American who has come to the beaches of Normandy, or any of our cemeteries in Europe, goes back with a different perspective on what Americans have done in Europe."
A new, $25 million visitors' center is to open on D-Day next year at the Colleville-sur-Mer cemetery to detail events surrounding the D-Day invasion, Stapleton said. He said about 1.4 million people visit the U.S. cemetery every year.
About 1,000 people attended an official D-Day ceremony Tuesday in Asnelles-sur-Mer, part of Gold Beach, where British soldiers came ashore. The site of the official anniversary alternates between the U.S. and British landing zones every year, Stapleton said.