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Thousands gather to remember D-Day

Prince Charles begins anniversary ceremonies
U.S. veterans arrive in Paris on their way to the commemoration.
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Allied and German veterans join together in remembrance.

The British soldiers who survived D-Day still gather to remember those who didn't.

France celebrates its liberation, 60 years ago, by American troops.
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Normandy (France)

(CNN) -- Thousands of D-Day veterans are gathering in northern France for a weekend marking the 60th anniversary of the greatest amphibious invasion in military history.

Britain's Prince Charles took part in a host of memorial ceremonies Saturday to pay tribute to the men of the Allied nations -- including the U.S. and Canada -- who gave their lives to liberate Europe on June 6, 1944.

On that day more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian, French and other Allied troops arriving in 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes stormed Normandy's beaches. (How D-Day unfurled)

In the subsequent battles in northern France, around 250,000 were killed.

In Portsmouth, England, Saturday, as a huge flotilla prepared to set sail carrying veterans to Normandy, a Lancaster bomber and two Spitfires staged a flypast.

A massive security operation was in place in northern France with some 17,000 French military personnel and police out in force.

Prince Charles laid a wreath early Saturday for the fallen men of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards in the small village of Creully in Normandy.

The prince next paid a visit to a Canadian cemetery where more than 2,000 men from the 3rd Canadian Division were laid to rest.

Canada was the third largest allied force that took part in the landings after the U.S. and the UK. But veterans who landed at Juno Beach have often spoken of how they were the campaign's forgotten soldiers.

Prince Charles was fulfilling a packed day of tributes. At lunchtime he was unveiling a replica of the Horsa glider used by British troops in their daring raid on Pegasus Bridge -- the first assault of the D-Day invasion.

He also witnessed a mass parachute jump by serving members of Britain's 1 Para at nearby Ranville -- the scene of the original first drop into occupied France on June 6, 1944.

Ferries carrying veterans from Portsmouth under Royal Navy escort were to be greeted by serving Royal Marines and sailors at Ouistreham, near the Sword landing beach used by British and French troops on D-Day.

Many of the ex-servicemen making Saturday's trip -- young men in their early twenties in 1944 -- are now in their 80s. This year's commemoration is expected to be the last in which they can appear in numbers, giving events an extra poignancy.

Meanwhile, military vehicle enthusiasts were adding some 1940s atmosphere --khaki green World War II army trucks and lorries carrying people dressed in 1940s garb were among those making their way to the former battle zone.

German flags were flying in the town of Bayeux with German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder being invited to celebrate the anniversary this time around -- a move generally welcomed but causing some controversy among some British veterans.

60 years ago: American troops wade ashore under German gunfire.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is set to join more than a dozen world leaders including French President Jacques Chirac and U.S. President George W. Bush for an international tribute on Sunday.

On Saturday, members of the Normandy Veterans Association paid tribute to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of ground troops for Operation Overlord, at Colleville-Montgomery, the French village renamed in his honor.

The army's highest-ranking officer, General Sir Mike Jackson was with Prince Charles when he unveiled a statue of Brig. James Hill -- at 93, D-Day's oldest surviving senior officer.

Brig. Hill was there for the event at Le Mesnil.

Early Saturday, Charles inaugurated a British Garden of Remembrance in Caen, capital of the Calvados region in which most of the D-Day beaches are sited, in tribute to the 15 UK divisions which fought in the 80-day battle for Normandy.

Saturday's events were due to conclude with a march-past by veterans of the UK's Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at Pegasus Bridge.

A celebration was being held at the bridge at 00.16 Sunday -- 60 years to the minute of the arrival of the first Allied troops in occupied France.

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