COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — Gone are the screaming shells, seasick soldiers and bloodied waters of 1944. On Friday, a sun-splattered Normandy celebrated peace, with silent salutes, tears and international friendship marking 70 years since the D-Day invasion helped change the course of World War II and modern history.
Not many of the 150,000 Allied soldiers who slogged onto storm-torn beaches or parachuted into Normandy remain alive to pass on the legacy of that "longest day." Some survivors stood, somber-faced and proud, alongside President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande as they paid tribute to history's biggest amphibious invasion.
The veterans' hands, which once wrested France from Nazi occupation, saluted wizened faces. Some rose to their feet with difficulty. Thousands of onlookers applauded.
"France will never forget what it owes these soldiers, what it owes the United States," Hollande said at the Normandy American Cemetery on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.
"Vive l'Amerique! Vive la France! And long live the memory of those who fell here for our liberty."
Taking the stand at a site he called "democracy's beachhead," Obama said: "America's claim — our commitment to liberty, to equality, to freedom, to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity."
In all, 19 world leaders, more than 1,000 veterans and many others gathered to honor the troops and civilians who fell in mighty battles that helped bring Europe peace and unity.
At 6:30 a.m., the moment on June 6, 1944, when Allied troops first waded ashore, a U.S. military band played taps. D-Day veterans from the 29th Infantry Division and serving soldiers stood at attention.
"Twenty-nine, let's go!" they shouted, then downed shots of Calvados, Normandy's apple brandy.