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'History . . . Has Always Been Up to Us'

"I told my mom I was coming, and she said, 'Wow, take a lot of pictures,' " said Gruters, a 27-year-old from Sarasota, Fla., a digital camera dangling from his wrist.

In many of Normandy's villages, French and American flags flew Saturday from official buildings, poked from flower beds outside homes and hung from roofs.

Leger, a 28-year-old from Houston who is based in Stuttgart, Germany, said an elderly French woman approached the two officers as they strolled through the rows of graves.

"I didn't understand what she said, except 'Merci,' " he said.

"And she kept saying it over and over -- 'Merci, merci, merci,' " Gruters added.

A 21-cannon salute boomed out over the Atlantic, and the playing of taps sent tears streaming down weathered cheeks. Fighter jets screamed over the crowd -- a lone aircraft breaking off to rocket skyward in a missing-man formation.

Another anniversary had passed, and 65 years later, the soldiers on stage walked away from the beach again.

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