D-Day Normandy cemeteryColleville-Sur-Mer Allied military cemetery in Normandy, France (Kent Rebman / Unsplash)

Western leaders gathered in Normandy today to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, marking what could be the last opportunity to honor the surviving veterans who stormed the beaches in 1944.

The ceremonies unfolding throughout the day are steeped in symbolism as nations reflect on past and present wars. However, they also serve as a poignant moment to bid farewell to the dwindling number of soldiers, sailors, and aircrew who charged forth on June 6, 1944, into the teeth of Nazi guns.

Among them was navy veteran Bill Cameron, who had been scheduled to participate in the official Veterans Affairs Canada delegation but passed away recently, underscoring the urgency of honoring these heroes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French counterpart Gabriel Attal, and Prince William joined thousands at Juno Beach, where the Maple Leaf flag fluttered in a gentle breeze. Thirteen Canadian veterans, the oldest being 104 years old, stood in military uniform in the front row among the crowd.

Trudeau paid tribute to them, acknowledging Canada’s significant role in the liberation of France from Nazi rule. On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches, marking the beginning of the end of World War II. The first day saw 4,414 Allied troops killed, including 381 Canadians, in the 77-day Battle of Normandy.

Prince William noted that the Allied liberation of France was the most ambitious campaign in military history but came at a heavy cost, with 73,000 Allied forces killed and 153,000 wounded. The toll extended to 20,000 French civilians killed, largely due to Allied bombings.

Normandy’s cemeteries are the final resting place for more than 5,000 Canadians, including 359 killed on D-Day, and an estimated 22,000 German soldiers. The ceremonies serve as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight against tyranny and the enduring legacy of those who fought for freedom.