COLLEVILLE-MONTGOMERY, France (Reuters) – Leon Gautier, the last surviving member of the French commandos who stormed the Normandy 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 21-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.”
(This story has been corrected to show that Gautier was 21 years old, not 17, when allied forces landed on Sword Beach in paragraph 2)
(Reporting by Noemie Olive; Writing by Richard Lough, editing by Ed Osmond)
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