The last surviving Frenchman to participate in the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944 died Monday aged 100, local authorities said.
Leon Gautier was among 177 Frenchmen who participated in the landings on June 6, 1944, which marked the start of a rollback of Nazi Germany's domination of western Europe.
He belonged to the Kieffer commando, made up of French fighters who continued to battle the Nazis alongside the US, Britain and other Allied forces even after the French government surrendered to Germany in 1940.
He died in hospital in Caen early Monday, the mayor of nearby Ouistreham Romain Bail said, close to the Normandy beaches where the fierce battles are commemorated every year.
The landings on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, were the largest amphibious wartime operation ever.
The assault was led by US, British and Canadian troops, with a smaller participation of Australian, Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, New Zealand, Norwegian, Rhodesian and Polish troops.
Some 18,000 paratroopers were dropped into the invasion area, and Allied air forces provided air support for thousands of naval vessels carrying more than 130,000 ground troops in the landings.
Over 4,000 Allied troops died on the first day of the invasion, which eventually provided the attackers with a foothold in western France to push back the Germans.
Gautier -- who had lived in Ouistreham since the 1990s -- joined the Free France movement in London, headed by Charles de Gaulle, in 1940.
He went to fight in Congo, Syria and Lebanon before joining the Normandy assault.
After the war, he became a campaigner for peace, pointing to his wartime experiences.
"You kill people on the other side who never did anything to you, who have families, and children. For what?" he said during a celebration for his 100th birthday last year.
"Ouistreham is very sad today, the loss of this father, this grandfather has orphaned us," said mayor Bail, calling Gautier "a local hero whom everybody knew" and "an ardent defender of freedom".
© Agence France-Presse
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