Leading article: We owe these veterans a great debt

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The Independent Online

The 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings has arrived. And the time has come to put aside petty issues involving royal visits and diplomatic snubs and concentrate instead on honouring those who served in the campaign; and, of course, to pay tribute to those who died in it.

We might also reflect on how the landscape of modern Europe has been shaped by those dramatic days in June 1944. D-Day might not have been the turning point in the European theatre of the Second World War (for most historians that came with the German defeat at Stalingrad) but it was the first and necessary step in the liberation of Western Europe from the tyranny of Nazi Germany.

For half of our continent, that liberation, accompanied by the abiding friendship of the United States, has delivered more than six decades of peace and prosperity. For those nations that fell under the sway of the Soviet Union, one tyranny merely gave way to another. But now most of Europe stands united and free once more. And this week 375m citizens from Tallinn to Lisbon have been given the opportunity to vote in continent-wide elections for the European Parliament.

Without what the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower called "a great and noble undertaking" involving 6,000 ships and landing craft, 10,000 vehicles, and 156,000 men, none of this would have been possible. We owe those brave individuals who took part in this re-conquest of Europe a great debt.

So who were they? There has been some dispute of late over the relative contribution of various nations to this operation. The bulk of the force was made up of Americans, British and Canadians. But the re-taking of Western Europe was also a multi-national operation. Belgian, Dutch, Polish, Greek and Free French troops played a part. European co-operation helped to liberate Europe.

There is more contemporary resonance to today's commemorations. The soldiers, pilots and sailors of D-Day fought against a power sustained by a hate-filled ideology. There are political parties across Europe today – including the BNP here in Britain – that nurture the same noxious ideology that plunged the world into disaster in the 1930s.

As the years go by, the achievement of the D-Day veterans seems to grow greater; and so does our responsibility to preserve what they fought for.