When the sun rises over Omaha Beach, revealing vast stretches of sand extending toward distant cliffs, one starts to grasp the immensity of the task faced by Allied troops on June 6, 1944, landing on the Nazi-occupied Normandy shore. Several ceremonies were being held Sunday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of D-Day, the decisive assault that led to the liberation of France and western Europe from Nazi control, and honor those who fell. "These are the men who enabled liberty to regain a foothold on the European continent, and who in the days and weeks that followed lifted the shackles of tyranny, hedgerow by Normandy hedgerow, mile by bloody mile," Britain's ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn, said at the inauguration of a British monument, the AP reports. On D-Day, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches code-named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword, and Gold, carried by 7,000 boats. On June 6 exactly 77 years ago, 4,414 Allied troops lost their lives, 2,501 of them Americans. More than 5,000 were wounded. On the German side, several thousand were killed or wounded.
For the second year, commemorations are marked by virus travel restrictions that prevented veterans or families of fallen soldiers from the US, Britain, Canada, and other Allied countries from making the trip to France. At the new British memorial near Ver-sur-Mer, bagpipes played memorial tunes and warplanes zipped overhead trailing red-white-and-blue smoke. Socially distanced participants stood in awe at the solemnity and serenity of the site, providing a poignant view over Gold Beach and the English Channel. Giant screens showed D-Day veterans gathered at Britain's National Memorial Aboretum to watch the Normandy event. Prince Charles, speaking via video link, expressed regret that he couldn't attend in person. Charles Shay, a Penobscot Native American who landed as a US Army medic that day and now calls Normandy home, was the only surviving D-Day veteran at Ver-sur-Mer. The invasion "was a lightning bolt of freedom," French Defense Minister Florence Parly told the ceremony. "France does not forget. France is forever grateful." (Among the D-Day heroes was a Scottish meteorologist.)