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Bush: America would do it again


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

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

Allied and German veterans join together in remembrance.
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(CNN) -- The alliance forged between the United States and Europe during World War II is strong "and is still needed today," U.S. President George W. Bush told veterans commemorating the 1944 D-Day landings.

"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.

Bush opened a stirring D-Day commemoration address Sunday by paying homage to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who died Saturday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

"He was a courageous man himself, and a gallant leader in the cause of freedom and today we honor the memory of Ronald Reagan," Bush told thousands of veterans at the American military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer on the northern French coast:

Bush told those who had fought to liberate Europe on June 6, 1944: "You will be honored forever and always by the country you served and the nations you freed."

Bush and French counterpart President Jacques Chirac stood side by side at the vast American war cemetery to start a day of somber reflection over the heroism and loss of life during the D-Day landings in Normandy 60 years ago.

Later world leaders gave a standing ovation to D-Day veterans Sunday at a moving ceremony overlooking the invasion beaches of June 6, 1944 at Arromanches. (Full story)

Chirac, the host of the commemorations, said modern leaders had a duty to honor the values the soldiers died for by defending the cause of freedom and democracy together.

"France will never forget what it owes America, its steadfast friend and ally," Chirac told a ceremony attended by about 20 heads of state and government at the coastal village which was the scene of heavy fighting on June 6, 1944.

"Like all the countries of Europe, France is keenly aware that the Atlantic alliance remains, in the face of new threats, a fundamental element of our collective security."

Hailing the presence of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, the first German leader to attend D-Day anniversary events in France, Chirac said: "We hold up the example of Franco-German reconciliation, to show the world that hatred has no future." (Schroeder keeps low profile)

Earlier on a bright sunny day, the U.S.-Franco memorial at the cemetery -- where rows of thousands of white crosses mark U.S. soldiers' graves in a large tree-lined field -- was one of a string of ceremonies Sunday to mark the greatest amphibious invasion in military history.

A 21-gun salute was fired out to sea from the clifftops overlooking Omaha Beach where more than 2,000 U.S. troops died as they stormed the sands during the landing.

A military band then played both the U.S. and French national anthems before a flypast from four U.S. A-10 fighter aircraft.

About 20 heads of state and government and thousands of World War Two veterans took part in the ceremonies amid one of the biggest security operations staged on French soil.

Some 30,000 soldiers were deployed in the area around the Normandy beaches and helicopters patrolled overhead. Fighter planes were ready to shoot down any aircraft violating the no-fly zone around the event if requested to do so by Paris.

Among the guests was Schroeder, the first German leader to attend D-Day events in France, and President Vladimir Putin, the first Russian head of state to attend.

"The German soldiers had a job to do, just as we had a job to do," 81-year-old British veteran John Rockley, embodying the sport of reconciliation, told Reuters. "I feel no animosity towards them, and after all it was 60 years ago."

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and Australian Prime Minister John Howard also attended. Leaders of Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and New Zealand were also present.

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Queen Elizabeth II shook hands with many of the veterans.

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.

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.

Some 23,400 British and American paratroopers were dropped inland on D-Day and more than 132,000 troops were then landed on Normandy beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Total Allied casualties on D-Day are estimated at 10,000, of whom 2,500 were killed. German casualties are not known but are estimated at between 4,000 and 9,000. (How D-Day unfurled)

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

The massive invasion was part of a campaign dubbed Operation Overlord that led to eventual liberation of Europe from the grip of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Paratrooper display

Thousands of veterans have set sail from Portsmouth, England, to re-live the event Sunday. Before their departure, a World War II-era Lancaster bomber and two Spitfires staged a fly-past.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered in silence before dawn on Sunday on the beaches of Normandy to watch the sun rise.

Many had spent the night there after watching a spectacular firework display along the 100-kilometer (60-mile) stretch of coastline.

There was a festive atmosphere on Saturday as war veterans mingled with residents and tourists to watch thousands of paratroopers drop from the sky to re-enact the heroic deeds six decades ago.

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Time to remember: A veteran at one of Sunday's memorials

The drop was one of the most dramatic in an array of D-Day tributes, and featured more than 1,000 British and U.S. troops.

Prince Charles laid a wreath for the fallen men of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards in the small village of Creully in Normandy. In other ceremonies, thousands of poppies were dropped into the sea from a plane.

It was a packed day of tributes for the prince who 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.

Many of the ex-servicemen making the trip to Normandy -- young men in their late teens and 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.


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