D-Day marked the start of a European invasion as many thousands of Allied troops began landing on the beaches of Normandy in northern France in 1944.

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PARIS — Allied veterans and families of their fallen comrades gathered Saturday at the U.S. cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach to mark the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion that helped defeat the Nazis in World War II.

Visitors and cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., watched as a bagpipe band paraded at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, amid the thousands of white marble crosses and Stars of David of servicemen and women who died during the invasion.

This year’s events were much more low-key than last year, when a huge security operation was put in place as 17 heads of state, including the queen of England, attended engagements for the 70th D-Day anniversary.

The invasion began June 6, 1944, with a perilous airborne operation led by paratroopers of the “Screaming Eagles” 101st Airborne and the 82nd Airborne divisions.

Some 156,000 Allied troops landed on the five invasion beaches in the operation, code-named Operation Overlord, in what was the largest sea assault in military history. By the end of the first day, more than 4,000 allied troops were dead.

Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower supervised the risky invasion. His Orders of the Day for the force included the oft-quoted: “The eyes of the world are upon you.”

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described the onslaught as “undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever taken place.”

The operation marked the beginning of an 80-day campaign to liberate German-occupied Europe that involved 3 million troops and cost the lives of 250,000 people.