Western leaders have gathered in Normandy have paid homage to veterans and those who died during the World War II landing of Allied forces in northern France on the 75th anniversary of the event known as the D-Day.
U.S. President Donald Trump called D-Day veterans "among the greatest Americans who will ever live" as he addressed a ceremony in the Normandy coast town of Ver-Sur-Mer attended by other Western heads of state and surviving participants in the June 6, 1944, landings.
Trump, who joined British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron at the ceremony, said, "You are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live. You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts."
May, speaking in front of around 60 uniformed veterans, many of them in wheelchairs, said, "If one day can be said to have determined the fate of generations to come, in France, in Britain, in Europe and the world, that day was the 6th of June, 1944...We thank you."
Macron, speaking in English, turned to face the veterans and told them, "We know what we owe to you, veterans: our freedom. And on behalf of my nation I just want to say thank you."
D-Day marked the start of Operation Overlord -- the Allied campaign that contributed decisively to Nazi Germany's final defeat the following year.
The event was followed a few hours later by a ceremony attended by Macron and Trump to pay tribute to fallen U.S. soldiers at the Normandy American Cemetery.
The French and U.S. leaders' wives -- Brigitte Macron and Melania Trump -- will attend a ceremony at the cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, where U.S. forces suffered the day's heaviest Allied casualties, losing more than 2,000 men.
Macron is also scheduled to commemorate the 177 French commandos from Free French forces who took part in the landings.
The operation, commanded by U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains the largest military landing in history, involving almost 7,000 ships and landing craft along an 80-kilometer stretch of the Normandy coast divided into five sectors code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
Thousands were killed on both sides.
Later, Macron and Trump paid tribute to fallen U.S. soldiers at the Normandy American Cemetery, in Coleville-sur-Mer, which overlooks Omaha Beach, where more than 2,400 U.S. troops were killed on D-Day.
Trump used the opportunity to reassure U.S. allies of their "unbreakable" bond with America, despite his repeated criticism aimed at NATO members who do not meet their defense spending pledges.
"To all of our friends and partners, our cherished alliance was forged in the heat of battle, tested in the trials of war, and proven in the blessings of peace. Our bond is unbreakable," Trump said.
In a separate ceremony at Juno Beach, where 14,000 Canadians landed on D-Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid homage to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for future generations, "for you and me," as he put it.
In St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last attended D-Day ceremonies five years ago, said he wasn't offended that Britain did not invite him to the ceremonies this year.
The Soviet Union was not involved in Overlord but was instrumental in defeating Nazi Germany with its onslaught on the Eastern Front.
His statement came after Russia’s Foreign Ministry on June 5 argued that the D-Day landings did not have a "decisive" influence on the outcome of the war.
Speaking at a meeting with international news agency chiefs, Putin said on June 6 that he has "plenty of other things to do."
"We don't invite everyone to every event either," Putin said. "Why should they invite me? Am I a ceremonial bystander? I have plenty of things to do here. It's no problem at all."