Prince Harry Opens Invictus Games with Emotional Salute to Injured Veterans

Prince Harry Opens Invictus Games with Emotional Salute to Injured Veterans
Prince Harry (center), with Kimberley Sterling and Martyn Gibbons
Tim Rooke/REX

09/11/2014 AT 08:30 AM EDT

A dream came true for Prince Harry on Wednesday.

He watched, beaming with pride, as wounded and sick veterans paraded in London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the opening of the Invictus Games – his brainchild, which he brought to fruition in less than a year.

The hour-long event included a ceremonial show of military pomp and a flyby from the RAF Red Arrows, and finished with Harry, 29, emotionally saluting the servicemen and women who've given so much.

"Your stories move, inspire and humble us. You prove that anything is possible, if you have the will," said Harry, himself a former pilot.



Harry was joined on the stage by his father Prince Charles and brother Prince William, though William's wife Kate is suffering from severe morning sickness and did not attend.

First Lady Michelle Obama introduced Harry by video link, saying he'd "driven the creation of these Games" and adding that his visit to the White House last year "made a group of military families pretty excited."

"You're inspiring all of us, especially our young people," she said, adding that she hoped Team USA brings home a few golds.

For his part, Harry told the 6,500-strong crowd: "Over the past eight years, I have witnessed the whole cycle of life-changing injury; evacuating soldiers and local Afghans to hospital; flying home from Afghanistan with some of those critically injured; meeting others in hospital coming to terms with life-changing injuries; and finally trying to keep up with 12 wounded veterans on our way to the South Pole."

He added, "I can only begin to imagine how challenging the journey of recovery is, but the admiration I have for these men and women, to move beyond their injuries, is limitless."

Sport has been "the vehicle for their recovery, allowing them to channel their passion into what can be achieved, rather than what can't," he said. "No longer are these inspirational men and women defined by their injury but as athletes, competitors and teammates."

The Paralympic-style Games, featuring 13 nations and 400 athletes, including around 100 from the U.S., takes place over four days. Wednesday's opening ceremony ended with the world premiere of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin's Invictus Games theme, and will end with a concert starring Foo Fighters, James Blunt and Ellie Goulding.

On Tuesday, Harry had a chance to meet some of the competitors at a special party at the U.S. ambassador's residence in London.

"We were talking about sports and how this all came together. This is a great thing and will only get better and better," U.S. athlete Robbie Gaupp told PEOPLE. "He was really friendly. Some people put themselves up on a pedestal but he's still down on earth."

"He was asking us if we were confident, putting on the pressure to make sure we deliver. He came up with the Games and he wants us to win," said former Royal Marine Andy Grant.

Let the Games begin.

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