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World leaders hail D-Day veterans

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WWII vets remember their fallen comrades. CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports.

Sights and sounds marking the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.

France celebrates its liberation 60 years ago by Allied troops.
• France honors Americans for bravery
• Schroeder defends D-Day schedule
• Gallery: Landing at Normandy 
• Why it mattersexternal link
• Special Report: D-Day at 60 
In addition to leaders of the former Allied nations, who should be at the D-Day commemoration?
Gerhard Schroeder
Silvio Berlusconi
Normandy (France)

(CNN) -- World leaders gave a standing ovation to D-Day veterans Sunday at a moving ceremony overlooking the invasion beaches of June 6, 1944.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, French President Jacques Chirac, U.S. President George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a host of other VIPs spontaneously rose to their feet to applaud a march-past by proud veterans from all the Allied nations.

Exactly 60 years after the massive allied forces invaded France to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, heads of state from 17 nations were at the international ceremony.

"On behalf of my generation, the younger one, I thank you," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Australian veteran Gordon Church, 96, who landed on Gold Beach.

Blair did not speak during the ceremony, but chatted with veterans before it began, The Associated Press reports.

Queen Elizabeth thanked veterans again at a parade later Sunday.

"What for you is a hauting memory of danger and sacrifice one summer long ago is for your country ... one of the proudest moments in our long national history," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

"My father (King George VI) broadcast to the nation on that day and said, 'Once more a supreme test has to be faced. This time the challenge is not to fight to survive but to fight to win the final victory for the good cause."'

Veterans had gathered on the clifftop overlooking Gold Beach where thousands of UK troops came ashore in the assault on Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Chirac paid tribute to the veterans and presented France's highest award, the Legion D'Honneur, to representatives of the fighting men of 14 allied nations.

Old soldiers, sailors and airmen of 14 nations marched together behind the flags of all their nations at Sunday's medal ceremony in Normandy to reflect their common enterprise as allies on D-Day.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Australian Prime Minister John Howard were there, as were the leaders of Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was a specially invited guest -- the first time a sitting German leader had been at a D-Day commemoration.

The heads of state and government and thousands of World War II veterans took part in the ceremonies amid one of the biggest security operations staged on French soil.

The world leaders rose to their feet to take the veterans' salute, as the audience paid homage to the heroes of Normandy with thunderous applause.

Earlier Bush said the alliance forged between the United States and Europe during World War II is strong "and is still needed today."

"America would do it again for our friends," he said of the key role played by the United States in helping to free France from Nazi occupation ( Full story)

Chirac said France "will never forget the men who agreed to make the supreme sacrifice to liberate our soil, our country, our continent from the yoke of Nazi barbarity. It will never forget what it owes America, our eternal friend."

"Our two peoples have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the brotherhood of blood spilled," Chirac said.

Queen Elizabeth II meets some of those who journeyed to Normandy.

The queen, Chirac and Blair attended the joint British-French service at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in Bayeux, which contains about 4,200 graves.

As the hot midday sun shone over Normandy, both the queen and Blair took time to meet some of the former soldiers, sailors and airmen who were among 12,000 people at the service.

In an address, the queen hailed the invasion of France as "one of the most dramatic military operations in history" and said the victory could not have been achieved by any nation acting alone.

"The operation itself was a resounding success, but it was only achieved with the sacrifice of many courageous and determined Allied servicemen.

"The 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings is a moment for thanksgiving and a moment of commemoration. Today we honor all those who gave their lives in this campaign and all of you who fought in this great struggle."

Later she said she was deeply moved as she took the salute from British members of the Normandy veterans association at Arromanches before moving among them and thanking them for their service to the British crown.

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