France honors African veterans of World War II landings
PARIS (AP) — It’s sometimes called “the forgotten D-Day,” the crucial but overshadowed Allied invasion of the French Riviera to push back the Nazis.
France held an elaborate military ceremony Thursday to remember it 75 years on — and especially, to honor the many soldiers from African sent from French colonies to take part.
“You gave back our country its freedom and dignity,” French President Emmanuel Macron told veterans from several countries at a necropolis in the French town of Saint-Raphael.
“You gave back our flag its colors and its motto to our people ... It’s our duty to preserve it, hand it down, to make it bear fruit against darkness and ignorance.”
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and Guinea President Alpha Conde also took part in the ceremony.
Starting Aug. 15, 1944, hundreds of thousands of primarily U.S. and French troops landed on the Mediterranean coast for Operation Dragoon. It was intended to coincide with the D-Day invasion in Normandy in June but was delayed due to a lack of resources.
Africans made up as much as half the French contingent, indigenous soldiers from what are now some two dozen independent countries.
Operation Dragoon enabled the Allies to liberate most of southern France in only four weeks. Soldiers from the Normandy landings met troops from Operation Dragoon on Sept. 12 near Dijon, in the eastern region of Burgundy.
At Thursday’s ceremony, Macron urged French mayors to name streets after African soldiers, acknowledging that for decades they “didn’t have the glory and esteem that their bravery deserved.”
A military choir sang “The Song of the Africans,” while some veterans joined in. Fighter jets flew over the necropolis, trailing blue, white and red smoke to represent the French flag.
There is no definitive Allied death toll, but the French Defense Ministry says 1,300 Allied soldiers died in the operation’s first two days.