LA CAMBE, France - Americans and Germans who were bitter enemies during the D-Day invasion of France shared stories and moments of silence at a Normandy ceremony yesterday, joining together to honor those who perished in the epochal World War II beach landings.
They held their low-key ceremony at the German cemetery at La Cambe a day before an international commemoration nearby, led by President Obama, to mark 65 years since Allied forces landed on Normandy's shores.
Military bands played anthems of the United States, Germany, Britain, and France, and visitors piled wreaths at the foot of a mound at the center of the cemetery. About 22,000 German soldiers are buried beneath clusters of rounded brown crosses in a grassy meadow not far from Omaha Beach.
After the ceremony, most visitors headed out, but a few dozen stayed on in a corner of the cemetery, where a German pastor and a few soldiers buried the remains of a German soldier discovered last year. A Frenchman conducting construction work at the German battery at Grandcamp Maisy, five miles away, came across first a gun and then the remains, which have yet to be identified.
"It's a great feeling . . . to come here," said Austin Cox of Crisfield, Md., a sergeant with the 29th Division, 115th Infantry Regiment, who landed on Omaha Beach at 9 a.m. on D-Day.
"My comrades, though, are buried over at Omaha," said Cox, 90, recalling the high tide that carried him onto the expanse of beach.
The main American cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer has about 9,300 graves. Most U.S. war dead were repatriated.
Karl-Heinz Mayer of Oldenburg, Germany, has comrades at La Cambe, where a low, granite entrance leads into the cemetery containing the graves of the German soldiers, each marked with a small, flat stone. Unidentified bodies are marked simply, ein Deutscher soldat, a German soldier.
At yesterday's ceremony, Mayer recalled lying wounded on the fields of Normandy 65 years ago. An American soldier roused him with his boot, Mayer said. He said he was eventually sent to the United States to be treated.
"Today I am here for the last time, because I'm 83 and I'm not that well," he said. "We shake hands, we are all normal people. And I hope there will never be a war again, because this slaughter was horrible."
As the quiet commemoration unfolded in Normandy, honors were bestowed on 45 U.S., Canadian, and British veterans in an elaborate ceremony in Paris.