Zelensky shares emotional moment with American veteran at D-Day ceremony

The emotional exchange was broadcast on large screens to the cheers of thousands of people who had gathered Thursday on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings. And then it quickly resonated on the Internet.

An American World War II veteran in a blue beret, sitting in a wheelchair with a blue blanket draped over his knees, was introduced to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister.

“You are the savior of the people,” veteran Melvin Hurwitz, 99, of Frederick, Maryland, told Zelensky after hugging the Ukrainian leader. “You bring tears to my eyes.”

“No, no, no, you saved Europe,” Zelensky replied.

“You are our hero,” said Mr. Hurwitz, whose identity was confirmed by a great-granddaughter, Sarah Hurwitz Robey, moments later, as Zelensky knelt beside him for a photograph.

“No, you are our hero,” the president replied.

The moment captured a global audience that had turned its attention to the beaches of Normandy and the men who landed there on June 6, 1944, helping to turn the tide of World War II after five years of conflict. Those still living are in their 90s or over 100 now.

As the spotlight shone on those men, there was something remarkable about a veteran expressing the same admiration for the Ukrainian leader, who is leading the resistance to a modern invasion.

Their embrace reflected a bond that President Biden made explicit in his speech at the ceremony, in which he cast the allies' effort to repel Russia's invasion of Ukraine as an extension of the fight for freedom in Europe that has took place on the beaches of Normandy eight decades ago.

“We know the dark forces these heroes fought against 80 years ago,” Biden said, addressing a crowd of thousands, including 180 veterans who survived the D-Day operation, near the graves of 9,388 American servicemen.

“They never go away,” Biden added. “Aggression and greed, the desire to dominate and control, to change boundaries by force: these are perennial things. The struggle between dictatorship and freedom is endless.”

Ms. Hurwitz Robey said she first learned about her great-uncle's meeting with Mr. Zelensky from a friend who sent her the video on Thursday. She said Mr. Hurwitz was in Normandy on behalf of the Best Defense Foundation, a nonprofit group that organizes battlefield reunions for World War II veterans.

According to the foundation, Mr. Hurwitz was assigned to the U.S. Eighth Air Force and served as a radio gunner on a B-17, the massive bomber known as the Flying Fortress.

Alain Delaquérière contributed to the research.

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