Leaders of 16 nations paid a poignant tribute to surviving veterans and those who died during the D-Day landings 60 years ago that led to the eventual surrender of Nazi Germany. The leaders of France and the United States used the occasion to hail the importance of their countries' ties, despite deep differences over the Iraq war. The theme of the day, as outlined by the commemoration host, French President Jacques Chirac, was that modern leaders have the duty to honor what the troops who took part in D-Day died for, by standing together in the cause of freedom and democracy.
Mr. Chirac told an international ceremony in the town of Arromanches, midway along the 100 kilometer stretch of coast where the landings took place, that the men who fought their way onto the beaches of Normandy set an example for future generations. And he reiterated that France is grateful for America's coming to its aid in two world wars.
"France will never forget what it owes America," he said. "And like all the countries of Europe, France is keenly aware that the Atlantic alliance, forged in adversity, remains, in the face of new threats, a fundamental element of Europe's collective security."
At an earlier ceremony, President Bush also stressed the importance of bonds that were forged by a common struggle against tyranny. "Our great alliance of freedom is strong, and it is still needed today," said Mr. Bush. But the emphasis at the ceremonies was on honoring the sacrifice of the men who stormed the beaches 60 years ago, or were parachuted or flown in to support them.
One-hundred-forty-two veterans from the 14 countries that took part in the landings marched past the reviewing stand to thunderous applause. Some used canes. A few were in wheelchairs, but most marched smartly, medals pinned on their chest. President Chirac later gave 14 of them, one from each country, a prized French decoration to add to their collection.
This was the first time a German chancellor was invited to a D-Day ceremony, and Mr. Chirac says the presence of Gerhard Schroeder means once-bitter enemies have put their past behind them.
He says Franco-German reconciliation shows the world that hatred has no future and that a path to peace is always possible.
A public opinion poll, taken in Normandy, shows that the people of the region overwhelmingly support Mr. Schroeder's presence at the D-Day commemorations. And although some Allied war veterans continue to insist that Germany should be kept at arm's length, most appear to agree that the world has moved on and, while the bloodshed of World War II should not be forgotten, it is time for reconciliation.