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D-Day: Allies Commemorate Pivotal World War II Invasion, 75 Years Later

Veterans stand in front of a 1944 image of their comrades wading onto the beaches of France during D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth, England. Leaders of 16 countries involved in World War II joined Queen Elizabeth II at the ceremony on Wednesday.
Dan Kitwood
Getty Images
Veterans stand in front of a 1944 image of their comrades wading onto the beaches of France during D-Day commemorations in Portsmouth, England. Leaders of 16 countries involved in World War II joined Queen Elizabeth II at the ceremony on Wednesday.

Updated at 10:05 a.m. ET

"The wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today," Britain's Queen Elizabeth II said Wednesday, as she kicked off a two-day commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France that reshaped World War II.

President Trump and 15 other leaders whose countries were involved in that conflict, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, joined the queen in Portsmouth, a spot on the southern coast of England that was one of the main launching points for the assault.

The Allied forces landed on the morning of June 6, 1944. They paid an enormous price on France's beaches, where more than 4,400 soldiers lost their lives that day. Thousands more were wounded. But the assault on northern France — dubbed Operation Neptune, part of the broader Operation Overlord — gave the Allies a foothold that would help them bring down Adolf Hitler's war machine.

Within three months, it would mark an even bigger success: joining with the French Resistance to liberate Paris from German occupation. But the D-Day landing, and the battles that followed, were intensely hard-fought.

It took more than courage to win, the queen noted. Recalling a speech by her father, King George VI, she said he urged every British citizen to find "a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve."

"That is exactly what those brave men brought to the battle, as the fate of the world depended on their success," she said.

Veterans of that epic conflict are taking part in commemorations this week on England's coast and in Normandy, France, remembering their comrades who died in the battle that played out over weeks of bloody fighting. Several of them were featured in video testimonies, telling their stories about that terrible day of June 6.

"I was the second one off the [landing] craft," said Bob Roberts, who was a lance corporal in a Canadian regiment that stormed Juno Beach in northern France. He added, "There were so many cases that I could have lost my life. Thinking back now, I don't know how I survived it."

At the commemoration, Trump recited part of a prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt read in a national radio address:

"Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavour, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

They will need Thy blessings. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.

Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen."

The D-Day invasion was a massive undertaking, involving more than 150,000 troops, aviators, paratroopers and sailors from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada who were intent on seizing control of five beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Wednesday's ceremony included reenactments of the military decisions that led up to the operation — including details about the weather report that persuaded Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to postpone it by one day because of bad conditions.

In a message to the troops in that invasion force, Eisenhower warned that their Nazi enemy was well-trained and would fight savagely. But, he concluded, the Allies had gained an edge.

"I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle," he said. "We will accept nothing less than full Victory!"

Attendees also heard the wartime classic "We'll Meet Again" as vintage Spitfires and other aircraft flew across the sky. Offshore, a British frigate fired its guns in a salute. In addition to the ceremony in England, another commemoration was taking place in France, including a reenactment of paratroopers' landing behind enemy lines.

On Thursday, Trump and other leaders will join French President Emmanuel Macron in northern France to mark the arrival of the Allied force.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.