On June 6, 1944 over 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, in northern France, in a push to liberate Europe from Hitler's Nazi forces. Now, 65 years later, the memories of that day linger along that windswept coast and its quiet villages.
Stretches of broad, sandy beach form much of this coastline in northern France. It is a good place to walk and think.
But, on June 6, 1944, it was not so. American, British and Canadian troops and French commandos stormed these beaches from their landing craft. They ran, crawled and fought their way through German gunfire from above the beaches.
This was "Operation Overlord," commonly known as D-Day.
Now 65 years later many in the villages here, such as Ste. Mere Eglise, remember.
For Cecile Gancel, the Allied landing fueled the hope of freedom from Nazi occupation. "I remember one soldier who came in, clicked his heels and saluted with the usual "Heil Hitler." My mother, who was a very forthright woman, said "No, no Hitler here. Hitler will soon be gone," Gancel said.
There were fears the Allies might never come. But they did. First, the Americans parachuted behind German positions and some of them landed at the family chateau of Suzanne Duchemin. "We all came out into the garden and, in the thicket over there, there were all these parachutes strewn about. There were about 15 American soldiers here, all very relaxed as they came toward us," she said.
Duchemin was in her early 20s when she saw the Americans in her back garden.
Leon Gautier was a young French commando back then. He took part in D-Day and remembers having very clear instructions. "We had orders not to stop even for a wounded friend, nothing like that. Our job was to take the position on top of the beach. We ran, we were soaking wet, but we did not even remember being wet," he said.
The Allied operation took place on beaches all along the Normandy coast. Over 150,000 Americans, Canadians, Britons and French came ashore here. Another 20,000 Americans parachuted behind enemy lines.
Stephane Simmonet is a military historian at the War Memorial Museum in nearby Caen. "It was the beginning of the liberation of Europe. The objective of the Allies was Berlin, not Normandy, not Caen," he said.
In the months after D-Day came the liberation of Paris, the push across the Rhine River into Germany and onward. It would be another year before the war in Europe was finally over.
The sacrifices were great. In the U.S. cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer lie the remains of more than 9,000 Americans who died on the beaches of Normandy or fighting in the hinterland in the weeks that followed.
In the nearby German war cemetery in La Cambe lie nearly 20,000 German soldiers.
More than 425,000 Allied and German soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in action during the fighting in Normandy.
Thousands of French civilians were also killed, mainly in Allied bombings.
Henri Jean Renaud witnessed the events as a young boy. Today, he still believes the sacrifices were necessary. "For us the liberation was something extraordinary. Very often wars cannot be justified. But, this one had to be fought, had to be won," he said.
In the end, he says this led to reconciliation among the peoples of Europe and to the peace Europe enjoys today.
Every year, Allied leaders come here to commemorate the events of 1944 and the liberation of Europe. This year is no different.