At D-Day commemoration, Biden pledges continued Ukraine support

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US President Joe Biden made an impassioned call for the defense of freedom and democracy at the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy on Thursday, urging Western powers to stay the course with Ukraine and not surrender to Russian tyranny.

At a joint ceremony with French President Emmanuel Macron and US veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery, Biden said it was “simply unthinkable” to surrender to Russian aggression and he promised no let-up in support of Ukraine.

He urged Western and NATO allies to recapture the spirit of D-Day and work together at a time when he said democracy was under greater threat than at any time since the end of World War Two.

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“Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today,” Biden said in his speech.

On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied soldiers invaded France by sea and air to drive out the forces of Nazi Germany, coming ashore at five beaches codenamed Omaha, Juno, Sword, Utah and Gold or dropping from the sky.

With the numbers of veterans, many aged 100 or more, fast dwindling, this is likely to be the last major ceremony in Normandy honoring them in their presence.

Biden said it was the highest honor to salute the assembled US veterans, many of them in wheelchairs, some huddled in warm blankets, turning to tell them: “God love ya.”

“The men who fought here became heroes,” he said. “They knew beyond any doubt there are things that are worth fighting and dying for.”

With war raging in Ukraine on Europe’s borders, the anniversary of this turning point in World War Two carries special resonance. It takes place in a year of many elections, including for the European Parliament this week and in the US in November.

Critics fear former President Donald Trump, who will go head-to-head with Biden in the election, would reduce US support for Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his wife Olena Zelenska received an ovation as they arrived for an international commemoration ceremony at Omaha beach, as World War Two bombers flew overhead. Zelenskyy warmly hugged Macron and proceeded to talk with many of the heads of state present.

Speaking at a British ceremony in Ver-sur-Mer earlier on Thursday, Britain’s King Charles, in full military uniform, also urged greater international collaboration to fight for peace.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and many others also took part in the day of tributes.

But Russia, which invaded Ukraine in 2022, touching off Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War Two, was not invited.

‘Rest in peace’

Leaders were set to adopt on Thursday a declaration saying democracy was once more under threat in Europe and promising to defend freedom and democracy, two sources said.

Some 200 veterans, most of them American or British, were taking part in ceremonies throughout the day on windswept beaches that still bear the scars of the fighting that erupted on D-Day, history’s largest amphibious invasion.

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Thousands of service personnel from Britain, the United States, Canada and other nations were killed, as well as their German foes and thousands of civilians across Normandy.

At the US ceremony in Colleville-sur-Mer, where row after row of white marble crosses - some with names, some unmarked - show the toll the invasion, Macron awarded the Legion d’Honneur to US veterans, many sporting caps that read “WWII veteran.”

“You are back here today at home, if I may say,” Macron told the 180 American World War Two veterans, including 33 D-Day veterans, saying France would not forget their sacrifice.

Veterans have been the stars of commemorations throughout the week. As they arrived at the Omaha beach ceremony, leaders applauded each of them as they were pushed past on wheelchairs, some veterans smiling proudly and saluting.

Moving letters from some of them were read out at the British ceremony.

“I want to pay my respects to those who didn’t make it. May they rest in peace,” veteran Joe Mines said, in words read by actor Martin Freeman. “I was 19 when I landed, but I was still a boy... and I didn’t have any idea of war and killing.”

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