OMAHA BEACH, NORMANDY, FRANCE
— U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders paid tribute to World War II veterans at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
In a speech at Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy, France, Obama hailed the troops who he said "gave so much for the survival of liberty at this moment of maximum peril."
He spoke from a monument overlooking neat rows of white marble crosses on the graves of nearly 10,000 soldiers. The cemetery lies on a bluff near the beaches where more than 160,000 Allied troops - 73,000 of them American - launched the massive assault on a shoreline heavily fortified by German forces. Though about 4,500 died that day, Allied forces liberated Paris two months later and ultimately defeated the Nazis throughout Europe.
While under heavy machine gun fire from the German coastal defense forces, American soldiers maneuver off the ramp of a U.S. Coast Guard landing craft during the Allied landing operations at Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
A Coast Guard LCI, listing to port, pulls alongside a transport ship to evacuate the troops and wounded just before the craft capsized and sank during the invasion of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Allied troops crouch behind the bulwarks of a landing craft as it nears Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion, Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Members of an American unit reach Utah Beach on a life raft after their landing craft was hit and sunk by German coastal defenses. Here soldiers help their exhausted comrades ashore during the Normandy invasion, June 6, 1944.
British troops wait for the signal to move forward during the early Allied landing operations in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Assault vehicles storm the beach as Allied landing craft invade the shore of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
American paratroopers fly over the English Channel enroute to a 100-mile front during the invasion of the Normandy coast, France, June 6, 1944.
Special British commandos move inland from the beaches at Normandy under enemy shell, mortar and sniper fire, France, June 6, 1944.
American troops move to the interior of northern France, June 6, 1944.
Soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Flotilla at Juno Beach, near Bernieres-sur-mer, during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.
German prisoners of war are led away by Allied forces during landing operations at Utah Beach, Normandy coast, France, June 6, 1944.
Landing craft loaded with American troops are guarded overhead by barrage balloons, Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Allied forces using amphibious trucks follow foot troops ashore during the early invasion of the Normandy coast, June 6, 1944.
British commandos pass through the streets of a town near Caen, France, June 6, 1944.
Following the first Allied landings on the French coast troops began to move inland, passing through villages where they were given a warm welcome, June 6, 1944.
In his speech, Obama praised the veterans who took part in D-Day for changing the course of human history, saying it is important their story is "seared into the memory of the future world."
Opening the ceremony, French President Francois Hollande also said the sacrifice of the soldiers "changed the world."
"We owe it to the memory of those who died for us, and we also owe it - with regards to the willingness of France - to be present everywhere, aware that it comes with a long history and that it still has a destiny to fulfill for the fate of the whole world,'' Hollande said.
The leaders of 18 countries and thousands of veterans took part in the ceremony.
Among the leaders and dignitaries in attendance were British Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko.
Merkel told Putin, in talks Friday, that Russia had a "great responsibility" to support peace in Ukraine, Reuters reported, citing a German government spokeswoman.
Obama, Putin Meet
Obama is capping a four-day European tour in which he has put much energy into isolating Putin for his country's actions in Ukraine. The two men spoke briefly and informally at a D-Day luncheon for the assembled leaders Friday.
U.S. officials said President Obama made clear to Putin that Russia must recognize Petro Poroshenko as the legitimate leader of Ukraine, cease support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and stop the flow of arms and materiel across the border. Obama urged Putin to work with the new Ukrainian government to reduce tensions, and indicated that a failure to do so would only deepen Russia's isolation.
Russian news agencies quoted Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying the Russian and American presidents both called for "a speedy end to the violence and military operations."
Meanwhile, some U.S. veterans revisited the site of D-Day, the largest amphibious assault in military history. A few, including American Jim Martin of the 101st Airborne Division, marked the anniversary by holding a re-enactment parachute jump on Thursday.
"Was it different?" a reporter asked him after making the jump.
"Oh yes, nobody shooting at me. It's much nicer," Martin replied.
Other veterans, most of whom now are in their 90s, observed the anniversary in a more relaxed manner, watching the sun rise at the beach Friday.
On this June 6, the skies once again filled with smoke and the ground rumbled as warplanes flew overhead. But this time the smoke was from a 21-gun salute and the planes were F-16 fighter jets flying in a missing-man formation to honor the sacrifices of thousands of U.S. and other Allied soldiers.
World War II veteran of the U.S. 29th Infantry Division, Morley Piper, 90, salutes during a D-Day commemoration, on Omaha Beach in Vierville sur Mer, France, June 6, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande look out at Omaha Beach, one of the sites of the Allied beach landings, at Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville sur Mer in Normandy, France, June 6, 2014.
Colored smoke fills the sky as WWII veterans stand to attention flanked by children during an international ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings on D-Day on Sword Beach in Ouistreham, in Normandy, June 6, 2014.
French WWII veteran Leon Gautier of the Kiieffer commando (L) and German WWII veteran, paratrooper Johannes Borner (R) embrace as a sign of reconciliation during an international ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings on D-Day on Sword Beach in Ouistreham, in Normandy, June 6, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande walk by veterans and participants at a D-Day ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, June 6, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande stand with veterans during a fly over of the Normandy American Cemetery, at Omaha Beach in Colleville sur Mer in Normandy, France, June 6, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande stand with veterans during the playing of Taps, at Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Colleville sur Mer, Normandy, France, June 6, 2014.
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott places a cross at a grave as he arrives to attend the French-British ceremony at the British War cemetery in Bayeux, Normandy, France, June 6, 2014.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth pays her respects after laying a wreath during the French-British ceremony at the British War cemetery in Bayeux, Normandy, France, June 6, 2014.
Queen Margrethe of Denmark lays a wreath in front of a war memorial, as part of D-Day commemorations, at Sainte Marie du Mont, France, June 6, 2014.
A military enthusiast takes a snapshot of Omaha Beach, France, June 6, 2014.
An American flag is placed in the sand of Omaha Beach, western France, as world leaders, veterans and Normandy residents pay tribute to the thousands who gave their lives in the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France 70 years ago, June 6, 2014.