Men who stormed Normandy's shore 70 years ago joined world leaders Friday in paying tribute to the 150,000 Allied troops who risked and lost their lives in the D-Day landings in Nazi-occupied France, in a day of international commemorations of history's biggest amphibious invasion.
They are honouring the troops and civilians who fell in mighty battles that helped bring Europe peace and unity _ just as bloodshed in Ukraine is posing new challenges to European security and threatening a new East-West divide.
As the sun rose Friday over a gusty Omaha Beach, flags flew at half-staff. A U.S. military band played Taps, while D-Day veterans from the 29th Infantry Division and serving soldiers stood at attention at exactly 6:30 a.m., the moment on June 6, 1944, when Allied troops first waded ashore.
``Twenty-nine, let's go!'' they shouted, then downed shots of Calvados, Normandy apple brandy. Hundreds of Normandy residents and other onlookers applauded the veterans, then began forming a human chain on the beach.
World leaders and dignitaries including President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Queen Elizabeth II are converging on Normandy to honour the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day troops who risked and gave their lives to defeat Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
The D-Day invasion was a turning point in World War II, cracking Hitler's western front as the Soviet troops made advances in the east. Overall at least 4,400 Allied troops were killed the first day, and many thousands more in the ensuing three-month Battle of Normandy, which brought the Allies to Paris to liberate the French capital from Nazi occupation.
Among the Canadians who took part was John Ross, who is now 93 years old. Ross, who was a lance corporal at the time, says everyone was ``gung ho'' to -- in his words --``take care'' of the Nazis.
The anniversary events are taking on their own significance in a modern-day geopolitical crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to attend along with other world leaders who are standing against his aggressive moves in Ukraine.
In the City of Toronto D-Day events are also taking place at Nathan Phillips Square at 12p.m. and Governor General David Johnson will mark the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy by taking part in an event being held at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.