One million rose petals momentarily cloaked the Statue of Liberty during a ceremony staged by a French group commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on Friday.
Several helicopters flew over the Statue of Liberty at noon, releasing the petals in a symbol of gratitude for the sacrifices made by American soldiers to defeat Nazi Germany during World War II. “The French Will Never Forget,” a nonprofit organization incorporated in New York in 2005, was in charge of the event at—and above—Liberty Island.
A French warship positioned itself near the Statue of Liberty, another gift from France to the U.S., and a 21-gun salute was conducted as part of the celebration. In Battery Park, tourists and French expats gathered to watch the tribute from across New York Harbor.
On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy, on the once-sleepy beaches of the French coastline, to fight entrenched German occupiers. Called Operation Overlord, the invasion marked the second front in the war, encircling the Germans in the west as the Soviets flanked them on the east. More than 5,000 ships and approximately 12,000 aircraft supported the invasion, which led to an estimated 10,000 casualties, including British, Canadian and American soldiers.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff on Friday. “Of the 900,000 New Yorkers who fought during the war, nearly 37,000 of them did not return, and we remember their sacrifice with honor,” he said.
At Omaha Beach in Normandy, President Barack Obama made a comparison to the American soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq as his administration prepares to bring the last of them home.
“As today’s wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform, and they, too, will build families and lives of their own,” said Obama. “They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in commerce, in industry and perhaps politics—the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time.”
During a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of D-Day, in 1994, President Bill Clinton recalled how, on the day of the invasion, the Statue of Liberty—its torch blacked out since Pearl Harbor—was lit at sunset for 15 minutes.
On the day of the invasion, Anne Frank, perhaps the best-known victim of World War II, wrote in her diary, “Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation? The liberation we’ve all talked so much about, which still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale ever to come true? Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? We don’t know yet. But where there’s hope, there’s life.”