Roderick James contributed to this report.
LONDON — World leaders are gathering Thursday on the beaches of Normandy, France, to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day offensive that led to the defeat of the Nazis and eventually the end of World War II.
U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron are taking part in a ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer where more than 9,000 U.S. soldiers are buried.
Macron will also award France’s Legion of Honor to five U.S. veterans before hosting Trump for a working lunch.
Thursday’s commemorations in France follow ceremonies Wednesday across the English Channel in southern Britain.
More than a dozen world leaders, including Trump, Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined Britain’s Queen Elizabeth to extol the bravery of the young troops who were part of what is still history’s largest amphibious attack — 7,000 ships and landing craft headed across the English Channel to confront the Germans.
World leaders pay tribute
As 300 aging D-Day veterans, all now in their 90s, listened, Trump recited a prayer President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered on radio on D-Day, including the wartime president’s professed belief in the virtue of the invasion.
“The enemy is strong,” Trump recited Roosevelt’s words. “He may hurl back our forces, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”
Queen Elizabeth said she thought that perhaps the 60th anniversary of D-Day 15 years ago would be the last such commemoration.
But she said, “The wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today.” She said that many of the invading Allied troops “would never return, and the heroism, courage and sacrifice of those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. It is with humility and pleasure, on behalf of the entire country — indeed the whole free world — that I say to you all, thank you.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was a “gift of history” that she was able to participate in the anniversary ceremonies. She told reporters that “this unique military operation eventually brought us the liberation from the Nazis.” She said the June 6, 1944, invasion and Germany’s defeat a year later set in motion the “reconciliation of Europe and the entire postwar order.”
Trump joined in giving a standing ovation to the World War II veterans gathered on stage as the commemoration began.
‘We must never forget’
The ceremony included an hourlong performance recounting wartime events and a fly-by of historic and modern military aircraft.
A recording of the stirring speech British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered in parliament in 1940 was piped in.
“We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender,” Churchill said.
A 99-year-old D-Day veteran, John Jenkins, told the crowd, “It is right that the courage and sacrifice of so many is being honored 75 years on. We must never forget.”
Trump talks Brexit in Ireland
Trump left Portsmouth for Ireland after the ceremony to meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
Speaking to journalists before their meeting, Trump said to Varadkar that Brexit “will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border.” Trump added, “We have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here.”
Varadkar replied, “I think one thing we want to avoid, of course, is a wall or border between us.”
Trump also said he would continue to push to expand E3 visas to Irish citizens.
“We’re looking at that. We almost made it last time. It was one vote. We think we’re going to be successful,” he said, adding that he wants to do it “for the people of Ireland.”