SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France -- World War II veterans and dignitaries were gathering in Normandy for ceremonies today to honor the sacrifices of Allied soldiers who died in the D-Day landings 61 years ago. Dozens of ceremonies were planned to commemorate those who fought and died on the five blood-soaked beaches during the June 6, 1944, siege that marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi regime. French and American officials planned a tribute with a church choir and band at the Normandy American cemetery in the town of Colleville-sur-Mer, where 9,387 fallen U.S. fighters are buried. Parades, wreath-laying ceremonies and concerts were scheduled in many towns and villages in a region.
American parachutists dropped into the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise on Sunday but rain led officials to cancel the jumps of French and German parachutists in a commemoration that was to include Germans for the first time. The town was the first liberated by U.S. forces in Normandy.
Hoping to strike a spirit of unity, Mayor Marc Lefevre invited about 40 German parachutists to take part -- but building support for his idea was not easy in his town.
"Many people asked me what was going through my head," Lefevre said. "We need to know how to turn the page, and welcome the Germans without rancor."
Though the rain prevented some of the jumps, hundreds of spectators, including some World War II veterans, peered skyward to watch the American parachutists.
"It's always moving to see this," said 82-year-old spectator Shifty Power from Virginia who parachuted in on D-Day with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. "It's good for Germans also to take part -- it's important for peace in the world."
About 156,000 Allied soldiers -- mostly American, British and Canadian -- took part in the invasion, storming in from the English Channel and opening a Western front against the Nazis.