US President Joe Biden (centre), US First Lady Jill Biden (right), France's President Emmanuel Macron and French President's wife Brigitte Macron attend the US ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the World War II "D-Day" Allied landings in Normandy, at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, which overlooks Omaha Beach in northwestern France, on June 6, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

OMAHA BEACH, France: US President Joe Biden on Thursday warned on the 80th anniversary of D-Day that democracy around the world was at risk, as leaders marked the 1944 landings in occupied France that helped bring about victory against Nazi Germany in World War II.

Mindful of the war in Europe raging 80 years later following Russia-Ukraine conflict, Biden, Britain’s King Charles III, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, paid tribute to the tens of thousands of Allied troops who landed on the sandy beaches of Normandy in northern France on June 6, 1944.

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Biden said D-Day showed the need for international alliances, in a pointed swipe at his election rival ex-president Donald Trump who has publicly questioned the importance of organisations such as NATO.

“We’re living in a time when democracy is more at risk across the world than at any point since the end of World War II,” Biden said.

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“Isolationism was not the answer 80 years ago and is not the answer today,” he said.

“Real alliances make us stronger - a lesson that I pray we Americans never forget.”

Biden also vowed that, under his leadership, the United States “will not walk away” from Ukraine “because if we do Ukraine will be subjugated and it will not end there”.

“Ukraine’s neighbours will be threatened, all of Europe will be threatened,” he added, describing President Vladimir Putin as a “tyrant bent on domination”.

‘Oppose tyranny’

The biggest guests of honour were some 180 surviving veterans in their late 90s or even over 100, some in wheelchairs and huddled in blankets as they gazed over the shores.

Biden individually met 41 US veterans of the Normandy campaign, of whom 33 were present on D-Day itself.

Image Credit: AFP

Macron awarded some of them with France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur, with many struggling up from their wheelchairs to receive the medal.

King Charles III at the British memorial at Ver-sur-Mer that overlooks Gold beach, one of the landing sites for British troops, said: “Our gratitude is unfailing and our admiration eternal.”

“Free nations must stand together to oppose tyranny,” he said.

“Let us pray such sacrifice need never be made again.”

British veteran Cecil Newton said he was upset that so many young men were killed.

“All those who were in action will always be with me, with us. I can see them now,” Newton, 100, said.

Image Credit: AFP

King Charles noted that veterans were becoming fewer, adding: “Our obligation to remember them, what they stood for and what they achieved for us all can never diminish.”

Ceremonies were also sprinkled with stardust with film director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks present in acknowledgment of their classic 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan” about D-Day.

For the British ceremony, veteran crooner Tom Jones and popular folk singer and actor Johnny Flynn provided music.

‘Unity can prevail’

But the events also provide a hugely symbolic backdrop to talks on how Ukraine can regain ground after Russian advances with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Normandy to attend an international ceremony with all the leaders.

“Allies defended Europe’s freedom then, and Ukrainians do so now. Unity prevailed then, and true unity can prevail today,” Zelensky said in a post on X, announcing his arrival.

Macron has already sought to break taboos by refusing to rule out sending troops to Ukraine, a position that unsettled some European Union allies.

But there have been shifts in recent weeks, with the West showing readiness to allow Ukraine to use weapons provided by them to strike targets in Russia, and France pushing for the deployment of European military instructors in Ukraine.

No Russian official has been invited, underlining Moscow’s current pariah status despite the decisive Soviet contribution to defeating Nazism in World War II.

‘Let them celebrate without us’

During a meeting with foreign news outlets in Saint Petersburg late Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin shrugged off the lack of an invitation for Russia, saying “let them celebrate without us”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said democracy was “threatened by aggressors who want to redraw borders.”

“Our way of life did not happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort,” he said at the Canadian ceremony in nearby Courseulles-Sur-Mer.

In an operation kept secret from the Germans, some 156,000 Allies landed on five beaches spread across the Normandy coast: Omaha and Utah for the Americans, Gold and Sword for the British and Juno for the British and Canadians.

The landings marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Western Europe, though months of intense and bloody fighting still lay ahead before victory over the regime of Adolf Hitler.