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Last Updated: Monday, 7 June, 2004, 00:26 GMT 01:26 UK
Conciliatory messages on D-Day

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Normandy

Veterans march through the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Bayeux, France
Veterans remember those killed in the D-Day landings
The day dawned bright and clear as the sound of the last post echoed across the beaches of Normandy.

It was a sound that was to be heard many times on Sunday.

It rang out when the Queen came to Juno Beach to pay the day's first tribute to those who fell here 60 years ago.

Before laying the wreath, she said this anniversary was an moment for thanksgiving and for commemoration.

"Today, we honour all those who gave their lives in this campaign, and all who fought in this great struggle," she said to an audience which included many of the Canadian veterans who landed here on in June 1944.

George W Bush with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac at Colleville
In the trials and total sacrifices of the war, we became inseparable allies
US president George W Bush

A few miles away at the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, French President Jacques Chirac put aside his differences with America over Iraq to stand beside George W Bush to pay tribute to the American soldiers who died liberating France.

"France will never forget the debt of gratitude it owes to America, our constant friend, and to the other allies and the men who made the supreme sacrifice to liberate our soil, our homeland and Europe, thanks to whom Europe now lives in peace, freedom and democracy," Mr Chirac promised.

President Bush too had a conciliatory message for France, emphasising that it was, and remains, America's friend.

The two nations, he said, shared common values, and he stressed the bonds forged between the Allies during WWII still had relevance today.

"In the trials and total sacrifices of the war, we became inseparable allies.

Veterans centre-stage

"The nations which liberated and conquered Europe would stand together for the freedom of all of Europe," he said in a reference to the Cold War.

"The nations which battled together across the continent would become trusted partners in the cause of peace. And our great coalition is strong, and still needed today."

Then it was time for the veterans themselves to take centre-stage at the afternoon's main commemoration ceremony, attended by 17 heads of state and government.

As the veterans marched past to the sound of a military band, they were applauded by all present gathered here to honour them.

President Chirac conferred France's highest medal, the legion d'honneur, to veterans from 14 countries.

Watching these ceremonies for the first time were Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, here as a tangible sign of reconciliation.

Some of us made it back and some didn't - it was just luck
British veteran Joe Kitchener
That was the theme of Mr Chirac's speech here. Nations who had been divided by war, he said, now stood side-by-side.

France and Germany's post-war reconciliation showed that there was always hope for peace and unity.

But the real VIPs here today were the veterans. Some 12,000 British veterans returned for this weekend.

Those not able to attend the official memorials - because of the huge demand for places - watched spectacular air displays, a flotilla of ships sailing into Arromanches harbour and they enjoyed a warm welcome from the people of Normandy.

Tom Spice, who landed on the beaches of Normandy in the D-Day assault as a 21-year-old, came back this weekend for the first time since that day.

'Touched by gratitude'

"I was in a cafe last night, and there were lots of young people there. They all queued up because they wanted to shake my hand and to say thank you.

"I was so touched and so glad I came back."

For others, though, these past days have been a chance for them to make their own private pilgrimage to the cemeteries scattered throughout Normandy where thousands of the Allied dead are buried.

Many have come to pay their respects to friends and comrades who never made it home.

British veteran Joe Kitchener says it is the main reason he came this weekend. "Some of us made it back and some didn't - it was just luck. Now I look at the gravestones and I don't see them as old men like us.

"I see them as the young men they were and it makes me very sad they never had the chance to have a life."




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