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'We cannot and must not forget their bravery' -PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA YESTERDAY; D-Day 65 YEARS ON LEADERS PAY TRIBUTE TO HEROES OF BATTLE THAT CHANGED HISTORY.

Byline: DENNIS ELLAM; RUPERT HAMER

ONE last, proud parade. One last salute and one last chance to shed their tears together, in the place where so many of their comrades fell.

The men and women who served on D-Day returned yesterday for the 65th anniversary of the historic Allied landings, the pivotal turning point in the Second World War.

There were 10,000 Allied casualties - with a total of 4,400 dead - under withering, relentless enemy fire.

Yesterday US president Barack Obama spoke for the world when he spoke of the "unimaginable hell" the veterans went through as they tried to storm ashore amid the German bombardment.

Mr Obama said: "The sheer improbability of this victory is part of what makes D-Day so memorable.

"Long after our time on this Earth has passed, one word will still bring forth the pride and awe of men and women who will never meet the heroes who sit before us: D-Day.

"What we cannot forget - what we must not forget - is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century."

Speaking at Omaha beach he said: "This is the story of the Allied victory. It is the legend of units like Easy Company and the All-American 82nd. It is the tale of the British people, whose courage during the Blitz forced Hitler to call off the invasion of England."

And he went on: "When the ships landed here at Omaha, an unimaginable hell rained down on the men inside. Many never made it out of the boats."

Watched by his wife Michelle, Mr Obama - whose own grandfather fought in Normandy - told the veterans: "You could have done what Hitler believed you would do in the face of a merciless assault from the cliffs.

"You could have hidden in the hedgerows, you could have stayed in the landing craft or behind the sea walls. But that is not what you did. That is not the story you told on DDay."

Mr Obama later paid tribute to US hero Jim Norene, who collapsed and died after paying his last respects to fellow war vets buried in Normandy.

Veterans - still furious that French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not invite the Queen to yesterday's ceremonies - put aside their anger to listen first to Mr Obama, then to Gordon Brown. Sitting next to Prince Charles - whose last-minute invitation failed to pacify veterans' anger about the French snub to the Queen - a tense-looking Mr Brown accidentally referred to Omaha beach as Obama beach.

But he went on: "The Battle of Normandy decided the outcome of the war. It was won by soldiers 20 years of age who killed rather than be killed, who were afraid to die, but fought far from their homes with admirable courage against an implacable enemy. Sixty-five years ago in the thin light of grey dawn, more than 1,000 small craft took to a rough sea on a day that will be forever a day of bravery.

"On that June morning the young of our nations stepped out on those beaches below and into history. As long as freedom lives their deeds will never die. On D-Day the sounds of liberation on the march were heard across Europe." Mr Brown, who was accompanied by his wife Sarah, also paid tribute to British veteran Jack Woods, yesterday made an Officer of the Legion d'Honneur in a ceremony with President Sarkozy.

Mr Woods, 85, a former tankman, landed on Juno beach on D-Day - helping capture five bridges over the River Seine.

For him and the other veterans, this was their final official visit. Heads high, shoulders back. "Coming back here, seeing people today who are the children and the grandchildren of the people we liberated, that's been a reminder of why the sacrifice was worth it," said Ron Leagas, 84, who drove an armoured gun up the beach where he was standing now. "It's a comfort to see that we're not forgotten..."

A few will continue to make the annual visit to Normandy, but age and infirmity mean they will never gather like this again. Flags unfurled, and regimental banners flying, they marched down the hill in the seaside town of Arromanches, at one end of the beaches where British and other Allied troops came ashore.

There was a delay as other events had overrun, causing some vets to start singing Why Are We Waiting?.

But then, in a poignant ceremony, the Queen's image was beamed over the town square as veterans gathered to lay wreaths at a memorial overlooking the beach. The Queen also sent a message of support to the event. After the Last Post and Reveille, head of the Army General Sir Richard Dannatt told the veterans their courage was an inspiration to soldiers now fighting in Afghanistan.

Mr Brown was booed by some vets at Arromanches - site of Gold Beach - amid claims he was to blame for not insisting President Sarkozy invite the Queen. But he shrugged off the protest to tell the vets: "Your actions here made it possible to push through to victory.

"By coming here and taking the chances you did and the sacrifices you did, and the action you took, there's a direct line from here to Berlin and the fall of the Third Reich, to the reparation of Europe, to the creation of a free world." Brown quoted Field Marshal Montgomery saying the most important tool the forces had was "you".

"And the most important thing we have and the most important thing our country's had is you.

"Your service, your inspiration and your continuing dedication. Your sacrifices. And let us remember all those who died.

"As long as history books will be written you will never be forgotten. We will remember your courage.

"Your professionalism will be remembered forever. From the British people to the veterans of Normandy my thanks for your courage, your professionalism and your patriotism."

Veterans who had earlier booed Mr Brown stood to applaud. He then joined in rousing singing of Auld Lang Syne.

And, then, after handshakes all round, it was time for the old soldiers to wave their goodbyes, turn and walk into a Normandy sunset, heading home one last time.

THE FIRST CASUALTY

'My dad was first man to die that day'

THE daughter of the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day paid tribute at his graveside in France yesterday.

'Hero Lieutenant Den Brotheridge, 26, led the glider attack on Pegasus Bridge minutes after midnight on DDay morning. He killed a sentry and attacked a German machinegun pit before he was shot dead.

Nineteen days later, his wife Maggie gave birth to his only daughter Margaret. Yesterday she stood at the grave of the father she never saw.

Retired deputy school head Margaret, 64, from Honiton, Devon, said: "My father was the first of thousands of Allied soldiers to die that day, fighting for the freedom we have enjoyed since."

THE OLDEST SURVIVOR

'I vowed to return as I buried him among the dunes '

THERE was never a hero more aptly named... George Cross had come back to honour a promise.

At 100, George is the oldest UK survivor of the Allied landing. Today he is back among the dunes where 65 years ago he dug a makeshift grave with his bare hands for a comrade who died in the fury of German fire.

"For lots of reasons I never made it back and so it had to be this year, before time runs out," George says. He closes his eyes to recall the hell that met him that last time.

George, a miller from Liverpool before he went to war, says: "Our landing craft was approaching the shore but we couldn't see anything for the smoke.

"Then at the last minute it parted like a curtain, showing us terrible things. There was gunfire, smoke, screams, mayhem, everywhere you looked. I saw many men go down." One of those was the young soldier, James.

"Three of us buried him in the sand, to give him some dignity. I promised him, right then, that he would not be forgotten. So here I am, James, before it's too late."

But even in the horror, there was a small relief. George survived the nightmare on the beach and wandered into a nearby village where he discovered a small photographer's shop that had stayed open amid the mayhem. He bought postcards which he has kept to this day.

THE VETERAN NURSE '

'My boys were all so brave.. I loved them all '

THREE hundred Queen Alexandra nurses tended to the wounded on the beaches, and among them was Marie Page, then only 21.

Now a silver-haired 86-yearold grandmother, when asked how many men owed her their lives, she said: "Oh really, we did nothing, it was the boys who were the brave ones.

"I called them all my boys... I still do. And I loved them all.

"More than anything they were weary. Some simply collapsed into the water and drowned because they were too exhausted to carry on. The casualties had every kind of battle injury you could imagine, from cuts to missing limbs." Marie, from Stafford, added: "We treated the Germans just the same, because an injured man was a patient, whatever his uniform.

"Overwhelmingly, the soldiers were grateful."

AGED 18 ON D-DAY '

'I ferried weapons under fire'

BOB Bell, now 83, was 18 when he served on board a supply craft ferrying vital equipment to the British forces between the American beaches Omaha and Utah.

He had to winch 40-ton guns ashore - by hand and under fire. Bob, from Birkenhead, said: "At one point we were stuck for seven hours, waiting for the tide to come back and lift us off the beach.

"Talk about sitting ducks..."

THE BEACH MEDIC

'I still hear the cries of the wounded'

EVEN at the age of 86, D-Day hero Dennis Kenward can just close his eyes and he's back reliving the first brutal 24 hours on the Normandy beaches.

Standing on Sword beach, where as a 21-year-old Army nurse he jumped down to the sand from a tank, he says: "If it's quiet, and I'm standing at the cemetery where many of the men we tried to save are buried, it will come back. The smell of cordite, the shells whistling over our heads. The cries and groans of the soldiers wounded and distressed at the field hospital."

Dennis, from Chester, who has been married for 41 years to wife Pat, added: "There were so many casualties - mostly British. Limbs lost... it was terrible."

CAPTION(S):

Hero... Den Brotheridge Grateful... daughter Margaret Postcards & change George kept Promise to a pal... George Cross Marie tended to the wounded Bob Bell yesterday Then... as Army nurse Emotional return... Dennis, 86 Ron Leagas and Ryan Clarke with flags on beach PM Gordon Brown greets veterans Tom Hanks & William F Edwards PM's wife Sarah Brown takes photos at event Jeeps on Gold Beach at Arromanches Jonny Osborne, 5, & Alexandra Burton, 4 Flags for the dead on Gold Beach Gordon Brown, Prince Charles & Barack Obama Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni Leaders... Barack Obama, Prince Charles, Gordon Brown, Canada's Stephen Harper & Nicolas Sarkozy Grateful... daughter Margaret
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 7, 2009
Words:1883
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