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65th anniversary of D-Day puts spotlight on French landing beaches

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65th anniversary of D-Day puts spotlight on French landing beaches

JUNO BEACH, France — June 6’s 65th anniversary of D-Day on the beaches of northern France will pack some extra poignancy this year.
“Every five years a bigger D-Day Festival is organized, so the 65th will be special,” says Fabienne de Chassey-Schurgers of Normandy Tourism.
“But it will also probably be the last one we will see any veterans at. Most vets are already at least 85 years old and likely won’t be around or won’t be able to travel to the 70th anniversary festival in 2014.”
It’s with such historic significance in mind that communities along the D-Day landing beaches are planning 65th anniversary festivals June 5-7.
While every year fewer and fewer Canadian, British and American war vets are at the party, the French want to keep marking the date in a grand way.
As such the goings-on attract tourists of all ages.
Celebrations this year will also get some star power with globally popular U.S. President Barrack Obama scheduled to visit and tour as a guest of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
For the people of France it’s a holiday appropriate for members of the whole family.
Fireworks, parades, recreations of military camps, picnics and pub nights will all celebrate the liberation of France.
The D-Day landings on Normandy’s beaches — code-named Juno, Omaha, Utah, Gold and Sword — are considered the most complex military operation ever orchestrated.
In all, 135,000 Allied soldiers landed and parachuted onto the beaches the morning of June 6, 1944, and led the charge to wrestle France from Nazi occupation and eventually win the Second World War.
Our tour group visited Normandy for D-Day last year.
While it was the lesser celebrated 64th anniversary, our trip can still be used as a reference for what’s in store for the milestone 65th anniversary this year.
The mood of jubilation is omnipresent in Normandy in early June.
Everywhere a French flag flies, there is also a Canadian, American and British flag waving in honour of their liberators.
Generally, a trip to Normandy makes you feel proud to be a Canadian.
At age 44, I’m two generations removed from the war.
But my grandfather James MacNaull, who passed away in 1980, drove a tank in the war and I couldn’t help but wonder what he went through during those times. He did roll into France, but after D-Day, to head to Holland and help with the liberations there.
I remember as a boy my grandfather didn’t really want to talk about his experiences “over there,” preferring to show me and my siblings how he made a bed drum tight in the military or shined his shoes daily.
The night of June 5 is the traditional time to have cliff-top fireworks at Longues-sur-Mer near Juno Beach, where the Canadians arrived, and Gold Beach, where the British arrived, on D-Day.
The show starts at a German bunker with the sounds of battle, morphs into fireworks set to big band hits of 1944 and builds to a crescendo of pyrotechnics, music and sound effects symbolizing the liberation of France and the turning point that allowed the Allied to win the war.
The anniversary of D-Day is the time to check out the recreation of a military camp and the afternoon parade in Bayeux, the first French city liberated by Allied troops.
In the nearby little coastal town of Courseulles-sur-Mer is Juno Beach, where 14,000 soldiers in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade landed early in the morning June 6, 1944.
The beach was a bloody scene that day with 359 Canadians killed and more than 700 injured.
Today it is an eight-kilometre long stretch of peaceful sand, dune grasses and water.
A walk along the beach and checking out the remaining German bunkers are part of a tour offered by the Juno Beach Centre.
The centre opened on D-Day in 2003 and is Canada’s only museum in Europe.
While the centre’s focus is naturally the role of Canadians on D-Day it also celebrates all things Canuck.
For instance, thousands of French schoolchildren tour the facility every year to take in contemporary displays on our country’s multiculturalism and our prowess at sports like hockey and curling.
The gift shop, of course, sells maple syrup products along with D-Day and Canadiana souvenirs.
The Juno Beach Centre get about 58,000 visitors a year — 40 per cent Canadian, 40 per cent French and the rest a smattering of nationalities led by the British and the U.S.
“Many of the Canadians are doing some sort of pilgrimage with either their father or grandfather who fought in the war or the memory of their father or grandfather who fought in the war,” explains the centre’s program manager Marie-Josee Lafond.
As time marches on and vets die of old age, general manager Nathalie Worthington said it’s important to keep the centre relevant.
“Vets will always be greeted and treated as VIPs when they visit,” she stressed.
“But we also have to present history in a way that engages younger generations.”
The Canadian Cemetery in nearby Beny-sur-Mer is where 2,048 soldiers rest.
The graveyard has been customized with specially planted maple trees and perfect rows of headstones, each with a little garden surrounding them.
In the area there are also British, American, French, Polish and German cemeteries.
The Caen Memorial: A Museum for Peace is a huge complex in the capital of Lower Normandy.
A fighter jet hangs in its 18-metre airy main entrance and the vast exhibit space follows the Second World War’s timeline.
While the museum is predominately about the Second World War, it also chronicles the Cold War and last year had the first European showing of the September 11 Memorial, on loan from the New York State Museum.
The Pays de Bessin tour boat — which proudly flies the Canadian, British and American flags — leaves daily from the Port-en-Bessin to cruise past the Omaha landing beach along with D-Day history commentary.
<B>If You Go ...<P>
Air Transat, Air Canada and Air France fly from various Canadian cities to Paris, which is a two-hour train ride to the D-Day sites in Normandy.
Most D-Day festivities are free, including the parade, fireworks and tour of the recreated military camp.
Admission to the Juno Beach Centre is $10.25.
Admission to the Caen Memorial: A Museum for Peace is $25.
The Pays de Bessin boat tour past Omaha landing beach is $23.55.
One of the most affordable and centrally located hotels is the new Ibis in Port-en-Bessin, about $119 a night.
For more information, visit www.normandie-tourisme.fr or www.bayeux-bessin-tourism.com
Omaha beach on D-Day :

'Around me were endless horrors'


Jimmy Green wants future generations
to remember the British role at Omaha

The soldiers who landed at Omaha beach on D-Day 65 years ago were mostly American,
but as the BBC's Robert Hall in Normandy reports, there is a largely untold story about
British involvement.

At the Normandy American cemetery above Omaha Beach, a bugler sounded his tribute
to old friends. Close to the white crosses that mark the graves of more than 9,000 American
dead, a senior representative of today's US Armed Forces stood alongside a white haired
veteran wearing British campaign medals. Jimmy Green had been a young naval sub-
lieutenant when he joined the D-Day armada. Today he was here to remember the American
friends he lost, and to commemorate one D-Day story that is seldom told.

Jimmy commanded a flotilla of British landing craft which carried what he calls "the suicide
wave", the first US troops to reach the gently sloping sand close to the village of Vierville
Sur Mer. A large percentage of the 60,000 Americans had been allocated to the British crews.
It was an unpleasant and dangerous journey. The sea was choppy, and many of the young
soldiers were seasick. There were sandbanks and mined underwater obstacles to negotiate.

Jimmy Green and his fellow commanders could see little of what they faced. Spray and smoke
hid the German positions sited on rising ground beyond the beach. It was only when the ramps
dropped, and the soldiers began struggling ashore that the machine guns opened up, claiming
hundreds of dead and injured within the first hour. Bill Mead, in the bows of a second British
craft says it was "a sorry sight". US soldiers weighted down by heavy equipment were unable
to reach the sand, and dozens of bodies floated in the shallows.

"I could hear men calling 'help me sailor' but we had to turn back for more troops. I couldn't do
anything for the men in trouble. Many of them drowned."

Bob Sales was one of those who made it ashore. He remembers seeing friends falling around him.
"I saw a wall at the top of the beach, and I began crawling towards it. Around me were endless
horrors - men wounded, men killed, body parts. I can't begin the describe the horrors I saw that
hour, that day."

In some cases the British crews lost every one of the Americans they had carried to Omaha.
In a corner of the cemetery Jimmy Green found two names he recognised, and laid flowers
beside the white marble crosses.

"Over the years, history has forgotten that we British were there, and that we lost friends too,"
he told me: "I just want future generations to remember our role, and the fact that we got the
job done."

And the world leaders of the Allied nations that participated in D-day 65 years ago gather to pay their respects to the fallen.


Obama hails `sheer improbability' of D-Day victory
          AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven, Ap White House Correspondent – 8 mins ago
OMAHA BEACH, France – Recalling the "unimaginable hell" of D-Day suffering, President Barack Obama paid tribute Saturday to the against-all-odds Allied landings that broke Nazi Germany's grip on France and turned the tide of history.

"The sheer improbability of this victory is part of what makes D-Day so memorable," Obama said.

He spoke under a sunny sky at the American Cemetery on cliffs overlooking Omaha Beach and the rest of the Normandy coastline where on June 6, 1944 Allied ships disgorged American, British and Canadian soldiers under the withering fire of Nazi troops awaiting the Allies' cross-channel gamble.

Arriving by helicopter, Obama visited an American battlefield museum with his wife, Michelle; laid a wreath in honor of the fallen; greeted U.S. military members; and mingled with uniformed World War II veterans.

Normandy's cliffs, still pocked with gun emplacements and other reminders of the war, including the white headstones of thousands of fallen American troops, provided sure footing for a new U.S. commander in chief who has made an early priority of strengthening America's relations with Europe. Obama noted that Normandy has been visited by many U.S. presidents and predicted, "Long after our time on this Earth has passed, one word will still bring forth the pride and awe of men and women who will never meet the heroes who sit before us: D-Day."

He said the lessons of that pivotal effort are eternal.

"Friends and veterans, what we cannot forget — what we must not forget — is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century," he said.

One American veteran of the D-Day landings, Ralph K. Manley, 85, stood among the graves at the American cemetery and marveled at the thousands of visitors. Manley, who lost a twin brother in the war and was a parachute infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division at Normandy, told a reporter that the importance of the commemoration went beyond Obama's presence.

"I can see President Obama on the television when I'm home," he said. "But I could never see all the respect and courtesy that all these people pay to come here this day. That's the part that feels really heartwarming, the one that makes me feel good about the sacrifices we made. I'm so thankful I'm not one of those tombstones right here."

Before the ceremony, Obama met in nearby Caen with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In an exchange with reporters, Obama indicated that he was considering stronger responses to what he called North Korean provocations.Obama said he preferred to stick to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, after its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but said that would work only if the communist nation was willing to engage in serious talks. He made no mention of a military option, but suggested he sees a limit to the effectiveness of diplomacy.

"I don't think there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we continue to act in the same ways," he said.

Speaking at Omaha Beach at a time when he is directing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — both of which have lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II — Obama described in stark terms the harsh conditions the Allied invaders faced at Normandy. He noted that in many ways the seaborne invasion plan went awry, leaving the assaulting forces vulnerable to Nazi guns in their path.

"When the ships landed here at Omaha, an unimaginable hell rained down on the men inside," he said. "Many never made it out of the boats."

But the Allies prevailed, gathering strength for a breakout from Normandy in July that opened a path toward Paris and eventually took the Allies all the way to Germany and victory over the Nazis. Obama paid tribute to the Allies — the British, the Canadian, the French as well as the Russians, "who sustained some of the war's heaviest casualties on the Eastern front."

"At an hour of maximum danger, amid the bleakest of circumstances, men who thought themselves ordinary found it within themselves to do the extraordinary," Obama said. "They fought out of a simple sense of duty — a duty sustained by the same ideals for which their countrymen had fought and bled for over two centuries."

Earlier, Sarkozy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown each recalled the sacrifices of the Allies.

Obama noted that his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, arrived at Normandy six weeks after D-Day and marched across France in Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's army. Attending with Obama was his great uncle, Charles Payne, who was part of the first American division to reach and liberate a Nazi concentration camp that Obama and his great uncle visited in Germany on Friday.

Obama saluted the contributions of individual veterans of the Normandy landings, including one veteran, Jim Norene, who fought as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

"Last night, after visiting this cemetery for one last time, he passed away in his sleep," the president said. "Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not return. But just as he did 65 years ago, he came anyway. May he now rest in peace with the boys he once bled with, and may his family always find solace in the heroism he showed here."