France holds commemorations for 69th anniversary of D-Day

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Commemorations of the 69th anniversary of D-Day started Thursday in France with a flag-raising at an American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.

Tourists, many from the U.S. and Britain, gathered in the still morning under a brilliant spring sky to witness the flag-raising amid the neat rows of thousands of white marble crosses and stars of David marking the graves of U.S. servicemen and women killed during the Allied invasion of Normandy that began June 6, 1944.

A full day of ceremonies including fireworks, concerts and marches was planned across Normandy Thursday in honor of the 150,000 troops, mainly US, British and Canadian, who risked or gave their lives in the liberation of German-occupied western Europe during World War II.

Around two dozen US vets, some in their old uniforms pinned with medals, stood and saluted during a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial overlooking Omaha Beach, where a U.S. cemetery holds the remains of over 9,000 Americans who died during the vicious battle to storm the French beach under withering Nazi fire.

British war veterans from Norfolk and Suffolk headed to Normandy to inter the ashes of Ernest Mears, a Pioneer Corps member who helped dig trenches and shelters in the invasion, The Telegraph reports.

Mears’ ashes will be placed at a Commonwealth War Grave cemetery close to the beach where he landed, but veteran Jack Woods said he hopes they can be moved over to the Bayeux Cathedral for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 2014.

British broadcaster Channel 4 is marking the 69th anniversary with ‘D-Day: As It Happens,’ a project that follows the movements of seven people involved in D-Day – including soldiers, nurses and cameramen – in real-time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.