NEW YORK (AFP).- A million red rose petals were showered over the Statue of Liberty on Friday in a spectacular display to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy during World War II.
Dropped from three helicopters, the petals looked tiny against Lady Liberty, a 305-foot (93-meter) colossus rising from an island in New York harbor.
But the crowds applauded enthusiastically, as tourists and children carefully gathered the petals as they floated down around the statue, a symbol of the United States and of Franco-American friendship.
In all, 70,000 roses -- 1,000 for each year since the epic landing -- were used.
One hundred and thirty French and American schoolchildren unfurled huge French and American flags at the foot of the statue, and sung French and American hymns, in honor of the US forces that stormed ashore June 6, 1944 to help liberate France from Nazi occupation.
A dozen veterans, all more than 90 years old, also took in the sight, some overcome with emotion.
"I am not a hero, the heroes are still in Normandy, and France," said 91-year-old Joseph Chiopolo, a former army medic who remembers the landing on Omaha Beach with horror.
"All you do is walk over dead bodies. It was awful."
He survived, saved by a comrade who lost his life.
"God was on my side. I made it. I am blessed," he told AFP.
Although he has returned to France several times, Chiopolo has never wanted to go back to Normandy.
"There is no winner in any war. Never, ever," he said, urging younger generations "to take care of each other and be friendly."
A flotilla of boats
Morton Warnick, like other vets, speaks of their exploits with modesty.
"I felt it was a job that had to be done," he said of the landing. "The Germans did a lot of terrible things, we had to get rid of them."
Warnick was supposed to disembark on Omaha Beach, but because of an error ended up on Utah Beach, a twist of fate he has never forgotten and for which he will always be grateful.
Unlike Omaha Beach, where fighting was fierce, the Americans who landed on Utah Beach encountered much less resistance.
"I still remember getting on the boat, getting off the boat, my heart panting," he said.
The ceremony on Liberty Island was organized by the association The French Will Never Forget with the French Embassy and the consulate in New York.
"We wanted to do something grand, unique," said Paul Bensabat, a founder of the association formed 10 years ago in the context of the Iraq war to affirm US-French friendship.
A shower of rose petals on the Statue of Liberty had never been done before, "and perhaps never will again," he said.
The French navy frigate La Fayette anchored near Liberty Island for the occasion, and sailboats flew French and American flags.
A New York fire boat sent up jets of water in blue, white and red, to the applause of spectators.
Other commemorative events organized by the French veterans of New York and the American Society of Le Souvenir Francais are planned for Saturday at Cypress Hills National Cemetery in Brooklyn and the French section in the Flushing Cemetery in Queens.
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