PARIS – Under the watch of foreign troops and hundreds of children, France marked the 60th anniversary Sunday of World War II's Allied victory in Europe, a solemn ceremony given special meaning with the presence of Allied delegations and tomorrow's adults.
Thousands of people lined the Champs-Elysees Avenue (search) to catchwill take up the mission of guarding freedom.
Scores of Republican Guards in shiny helmets bedecked with long ponytails rode prancing horses up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, followed by another contingent on motorcycles.
A fly-by of the Patrol of France streaming the blue, white and red French national colors in the sky above the famed avenue closed the victory celebration.
"That this commemoration is being held justifies the horrific sacrifices," said Dudley Marrows, 87, a pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force during the war. Marrows, from Mildura, Australia, traveled to France as part of a delegation of Australian veterans honoring the fall of the Third Reich and victory in Europe.
"We've still got democracy. That's what it's all about," said Marrows, sporting a row of decorations on his blue blazer. He fought from Britain and Asia, but not in France. "If we weren't allowed to remember, where would we be?"
On Saturday, VE Day was commemorated in Reims, the city northeast of Paris where surrender documents were signed on May 7, 1945. Dozens of world leaders join Russian President Vladimir Putin in a VE Day commemoration Monday in Moscow that culminates the events across Europe. World War II raged on in the Pacific until Aug. 15, when Japan surrendered.
Chirac placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before re-lighting the flame under the Arc de Triomphe where a giant French flag whipped in the wind. Taps were played followed by a minute of silence before the Army choir, joined by a children's chorale, sang the "Marseillaise," the French national anthem.
Chirac then decorated eight former veterans, Resistance fighters and deportees who survived Nazi death camps. Hundreds of children wearing white shirts and bearing national flags joined the military delegations around the famed triumphal arch.
"It's very emotional," said Georges Chamming's, a French member of the Special Air Services during the war who parachuted into Brittany, western France, on June 5, 1944, a day before D-Day, to stop the Germans from moving into Normandy during the Allied landing. He said his thoughts went to those who died in battle.
Daniel Moret, 82, got up early Sunday to travel to Paris for the commemoration from his home in Saint Quentin, in the Aisne region. Moret, who was with the French 2nd Armored Division, fought at Utah Beach, one of the D-Day landing sites, with Gen. Patton's Third Army, arriving there in a fresh wave of resistance in late July.
He has since bought a country house at Utah Beach "to remember." Younger generations "are less motivated," he said. "There are those who don't care."
But for Moret, the battles that led to victory are "anchored in the heart."