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Leon Gautier, last surviving French commando who took part in WWII D-Day landings in Normandy, dies at 100

Rooney reflects on D-Day
Rooney reflects on D-Day 03:22

Paris — The last of the 177 elite French troops who joined the Allies' harrowing beach landings in Normandy in 1944 has died. Leon Gautier was 100, and he died less than a month after he returned to the now-quiet beaches for a commemoration ceremony led by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Gautier's death was announced by the mayor of Ouistreham, a French community on the English Channel coast where Allies landed on June 6, 1944, D-Day, and where Gautier lived his last years.

French President Emmanuel Macron (front R) and French WWII veteran of the Commando Kieffer, Leon Gautier (C), leave a ceremony in tribute to the 177 French members of the "Commando Kieffer" Fusiliers Marins commando unit who took part in the Normandy landings, as part of the 79th anniversary of the World War II "D-Day" Normandy landings, in Colleville-Montgomery, Normandy, June 6, 2023. LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP/Getty

Originally from Rennes in northern France's Brittany region, Gautier joined the war against Nazi Germany in 1940 at the age of just 17 when he enlisted in the French Navy.

As German forces seized much of his country Gautier fled to London with other troops and eventually joined the elite cadre of the "Commando Kieffer" unit under Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who would go on to lead France after the war.

At the 79th anniversary D-Day commemoration services on June 6 this year, he was the last man alive from the small contingent of French troops that sailed from the shores of southern England with thousands of British and American forces to land on the beaches of Normandy.

The brazen Allied assault on Nazi-held northern France would prove pivotal in turning the tide against Germany in the final chapters of World War II.

Gautier met Macron at the ceremony last month and told reporters he would never forget that June 6th, nor the friend who was killed just feet away from him. He warned that peace remained fragile and said it must not be lost again.

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