LA CAMBE, France – American and German World War II veterans paid respects to their fallen comrades at a cemetery near a D-Day landing site Friday before an international commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
During the ceremony, military bands played anthems of the United States, Germany, Britain and France and German visitors piled wreaths of flowers at the foot of a mound at the center of the cemetery at La Cambe. Some 22,000 German soldiers are buried beneath clusters of rounded brown crosses in a grassy meadow not far from Omaha Beach.
After the ceremony, most visitors headed out, but a few dozen stayed on in a corner of the cemetery, where a German priest and a few soldiers buried the remains of a German soldier discovered last year. A Frenchman conducting construction work near the German battery at Grand Camp Maisy, a dozen miles away, came across first a gun and then the remains, which have yet to be identified.
"It's a great feeling ... to come here," said Austin Cox of Crisfield, Maryland, a sergeant with the 29th Division of the U.S. 115th infantry regiment who landed on Omaha Beach at 9 a.m. on the epic day that turned the tide of World War II.
"My comrades though are buried over at Omaha," said Cox, 90.
Flags from nations on both sides of World War II flew in the spring breeze.
A low, granite entrance leads into the cemetery containing the graves of the German soldiers, each marked with a small, flat stone. The main American cemetery at nearby Colleville-Sur-Mer has about 9,300 graves. Most U.S. war dead were repatriated.
Earlier Friday, British paratroopers swooped down on Ranville as part of the commemorations. Later in the day, a fireworks display was planned up and down the shore where Allied troops launched the Battle of Normandy that helped turn the tide of the war.
The big event is Saturday, when President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Canadian and British prime ministers and Prince Charles gather for a ceremony amid the rows of white crosses and Stars of David at the American cemetery, which is U.S. territory.