Dunkirk veteran Arthur Taylor felt "enormous tears" as he laid a wreath at the Allied Beach Memorial in memory of those who died during the Second World War rescue mission.
Mr Taylor, 94, was one of seven veterans of the famous 1940 evacuation to return to the French port town for the 75th anniversary commemorations.
Accompanied by proud family members, they were joined by standard bearers from British, French and Belgian veterans' associations and currently serving personnel from the Royal Navy and the French army and navy.
Despite the overcast skies, a large crowd of onlookers also gathered around the memorial square to watch the service and pay their own respects.
Huddled against the cold, with jumpers and coats draped over their legs to keep warm, the elderly veterans - now all in their nineties - listened as a French army band played a brassy tune.
After a reading by local school children from an article in the newspaper France Soir, written about the horror of the evacuation just days after it happened, French and British dignitaries, including Prince Michael of Kent, the honorary admiral of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, laid wreaths at the foot of the memorial wall, just yards from Dunkirk beach.
Flanked by his two military grandsons - Royal Marines Major Stuart Taylor, 41, and Warrant Officer Second Class Ian Taylor, 39, of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers - Mr Taylor laid his own wreath for the Bournemouth branch of the Dunkirk Veterans Association.
After the three men proudly saluted the memorial the crowd broke out into spontaneous applause, an appreciation for the debt they owe those Dunkirk veterans.
After the service, Mr Taylor said: "I appreciated them all clapping when I laid the wreath.
"I didn't expect it, it was spontaneous and the only one, the clapping of the veterans."
Asked how he felt, he said: "Enormous tears."
Major Taylor, who was on his first trip to Dunkirk, said: "I am incredibly proud. We have had a fantastic couple of days so far and it is a real honour to be here.
"It is a very proud moment for me, it is great to see everybody here as well and the reaction of the people."
The standards were raised and lowered during the national anthems of Belgium, France and Britain, and as the notes of God Save The Queen rang out, those veterans who could stood to offer a crisp salute.
After the service the veterans made the short journey to the edge of Dunkirk beach, the scene of such desperate horror so many years ago.
As they posed for photographs there were no tears, just a group of elderly men reminiscing and talking over days gone by.