COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day are drawing thousands of visitors to the cemeteries, beaches and stone-walled villages of Normandy this week, including some of the few remaining survivors of the largest sea-borne invasion ever mounted.
World leaders and dignitaries including President Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth II will gather to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day veterans who risked and gave their lives to defeat Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
For many visitors, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, with its 9,387 white marble tombstones on a bluff overlooking the site of the battle's bloodiest fighting at Omaha Beach, is the emotional centerpiece of pilgrimages to honor the tens of thousands of men killed on D-Day and the months of fighting afterward.
D-Day veteran Clair Martin, 93, said he's come back to Omaha Beach three times in the last 70 years — "four if you count the time they were shooting at me."
The San Diego, California resident landed on D-Day with the 29th Infantry Division and said he kept fighting until he reached the Elbe River in Germany the following April. "I praise God I made it and that we've never had another World War," he said.
Ceremonies large and small are taking place across Normandy, ahead of an international summit on Friday in Ouistreham, a small port that was the site of a strategic battle on D-Day. Fireworks lit up the sky Thursday night to mark the anniversary.
French President Francois Hollande's decision to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to participate in the official ceremony despite his exclusion from the G-7 summit in Brussels is being seen by some as justified recognition of the Soviet Union's great sacrifice in defeating Hitler, but by others as a distraction given the West's dispute with Russia over Ukraine.