FORT BELVOIR, Va. – A group of 25 National Guard Soldiers from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Kentucky assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based, 29th Infantry Division joined more than 1,300 U.S. service members, partnered with 950 troops from across Europe and Canada, in northwestern France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the WWII Allied invasion of Normandy, commonly known as D-Day. Upwards of 80 ceremonies in 40 French communities in the region took place between June 1-9, 2019, the apex being held June 6 at the American Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer where Sgt. 1st Class Paul Bosserman, the 29th Infantry Division Non-commissioned Officer of the Year, assisted with presenting a wreath during the ceremony.
The division’s delegation participated in 20 events across the nine-day celebration.
“We’re here to honor the 29th Infantry Division landing here 75 years ago on D-Day,” explained Sgt. Charles Vaughn, a Soldier currently assigned to the 29th ID.
Each of the commemorative ceremonies varied in size, scope, and specific focus, but all were held together by a collective thread of honoring our past to secure the future.
The delegation from the 29th attended a ceremony June 2 to honor the memory and heroic actions of the 2nd Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment, who seized Hill 314 Aug. 3, 1944, and eventually liberated the city of Mortain nine days later.
Brig. Gen. Robert Frick, deputy commanding general of the 29th ID, spoke during the ceremony.
“Our charge in this generation is to never forget their sacrifice and to ensure we guard and protect their legacy which came at so high a price,” Frick said.
June 3 saw the delegation at Picauville honor the pilots of the D-Day landings and commemorate one of the first towns liberated by Allied forces. The ceremony concluded with a walking history tour of significant points around the town and a reception afterward.
Members of the delegation at the ceremony escorted former Staff Sgt. Leonard Jindra, a D-Day veteran of the 29th, June 4 at Saint Clair Sur L’elle to honor the Soldiers of the 29th ID who died attempting to take the Le Pont de la Pierre Bridge during the D-Day invasion. The Soldiers took the opportunity to listen to Jindra’s stories of the war throughout the day.
Maj. Gen. John Epperly, 29th ID commanding general, led the delegation during a ceremony at the Aure Bridge in Isigny-Sure-Mer to honor the 29th Infantry Division, the 175th Infantry Regiment, and the 747th Tank Battalion who liberated Isigny from German soldiers. Jindra unveiled a new plaque to memorialize the link between the American and French people in their mutual move of liberty. Barbara Cota Bartholin, granddaughter of Maj. Gen. Norman Cota, assistant division commander of the 29th ID during Operation Overlord, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, 29th Infantry Division command sergeant major, also attended the ceremony.
“Three quarters of a century ago the largest amphibious assault in human history, which was designed to free the continent of Europe, began right here in Normandy. As I’ve walked that beach I’ve often wondered what it must have been like that morning.” said Epperly. “I’ve served in the division for 23 years now and I was fortunate to meet many of the Soldiers who fought there in June of 1944… Indeed what they encountered comes straight out of Dante’s Inferno.”
The division was back on Omaha Beach June 6 at 6:30 a.m., 75 years after their original landing in 1944 in support of Operation Overlord. As the sun rose, Epperly spoke to the crowd gathered at the National Guard monument.
“I recall one of the quotes that came out of Henry V: ‘We in it shall be remembered.’ It is a testament to what all of those young soldiers and their leadership did on June 4, 1944, when they came ashore that you are here today.”
As family members of the fallen laid roses on the monument one family member began singing “God Bless America” and the crowd joined her. As the song finished, a bugler played taps.
Frick spoke during two ceremonies on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 7. The first was held at Vierville Sur Mer, France to honor the 29th ID and the citizen Soldiers of the National Guard. The second ceremony was held at Saint Laurent Sur Mer to honor V Corps under Gen. Leonard T. Gerow, who was assigned the task of cleaning off the beaches and building up exit corridors which led to the liberation of Saint Laurent Sur Mer on D-Day.
“Time is claiming the veterans who experienced, both the horrors and triumphs of that day first hand, and we are left to wonder what it was like that morning.” said Frick.
The Soldiers of the division’s delegation heard the D-Day veterans’ stories first hand and left France knowing that when these men were young, they saved the world.
The delegation’s final ceremony was held at Graignes Mesnil Angot to honor French and Americans soldiers who sacrificed their lives during World War II. The Franco-American Memorial was erected to consecrate the close friendship between the French and Americans.
“This week, our Soldiers have walked the hedge rows around Picauville, and seen the cliffs at Pointe Du Hoc from the air,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, 29th ID command sergeant major. “They’ve stood on Hill 314 at Mortain and on Omaha Beach as the waves rolled in, and they’ve heard stories of fighting with the 29th on D-Day from Staff Sgt. Leonard Jindra.
“This has been an experience of a lifetime and our Soldiers are all better for it. Seventy five years ago young men stood against the shadow of evil, and against all odds, they won,” Ferris said. “Today, the bravery and heroism shown by all allies during Operation Overlord continues to resonate and we remain steadfast in our commitment to our European allies and partners.”