France's last surviving D-Day commando joins beach landing anniversary
PHOTO CAPTION: French WWII veteran of the Commando Kieffer Leon Gautier poses for a photo on the day of a ceremony in tribute to the 177 French members of the "Commando Kieffer" Fusiliers Marins commando unit who took part in the Normandy landings, as part of the 79th anniversary of the World War II "D-Day" Normandy landings, in Colleville-Montgomery, France June 6, 2023. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
COLLEVILLE-MONTGOMERY, France (Reuters) - Leon Gautier, the last surviving member of the French commandos who stormed theNormandy beaches defended by Hitler's troops in 1944, on Tuesday joined President Emmanuel Macron at a seafront ceremony marking the 79th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Gautier, 100, presented a student marine commando with his green beret at a passing out parade at Colleville-Montgomery, near where a 17-year-old Gautier had landed on Sword Beach in a hail of enemy fire.
Gautier was one of 177 French green berets under the command of Captain Philippe Kieffer who took part in the Normandy landings. More than 150,000 allied troops invaded France to drive out Nazi Germany forces.
At Tuesday's ceremony, the young marine knelt down on one knee to allow Gautier, sat in a wheelchair to Macron's side, to straighten his beret.
In 2019, Gautier recounted on the occasion of the 75th D-Day anniversary how French troops had been the first to wade chest-deep onto Sword Beach.
"Your honour," Gautier recalled British Colonel Robert Dawson telling the French green berets. "We went in only a few seconds ahead. It was a symbolic gesture."
"By the end of the day I didn’t have many bullets left."
(Reporting by Noemie Olive; Writing by Richard Lough, editing by Ed Osmond)