NEWS | June 8, 2018

Ceremonies honor D-Day service, sacrifice on 74th anniversary

By Cotton Puryear JFHQ Public Affairs

Virginia National Guard Soldiers in France and Virginia recognized the 74th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy June 6, 2018, at events that honored those who made the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day and celebrated those who continued the fight that led to end of World War II. Senior leaders represented the VNG at ceremonies where they placed wreathes on memorials to the fallen, and the Troutville-based 29th Division Band provided ceremonial music at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

Brig. Gen. John M. Epperly, commander of the 29th Infantry Division, delivered remarks at the National Guard Monument in Vierville-sur-Mer, France, on Omaha Beach where the 29th Infantry Division broke through German defenses on June 6, 1944. Soldiers also joined in laying wreaths at the monument and then joined local townspeople at lunch honoring 29th ID Soldiers and veterans.

“The friendship between the 29th Infantry Division and Vierville-sur-Mer was born on D-Day in 1944 and has now endured for 74 years,” Epperly said. “On behalf of those Blue and Gray Soldiers who have come before me, and those that will come after, we are deeply honored by your lasting friendship and graciousness.”

Epperly recounted the many challenges Soldiers faced during the D-Day assault, and he praised them for their resolve to continue the fight.

“Through a combination of courage, sacrifice, divine providence and just plain iron will, they slowly took the beach,” he said. “From the waterline to the seawall to the bluffs above…those young Soldiers seized their objectives and immortalized themselves in history.”

He described how the monument at Vierville-sur-Mer represented an enduring connection between the French and American people.

“It reminds us of the kindness that is shown by the citizens of Vierville-sur-Mer to those who wear the 29th patch,” he said. “The careful maintenance of the monument as a sacred place. And the maintenance of the memory of those who fell on that terrible day, including the heartbreaking loss of 19 men of Able Company, 116th Infantry Regiment from Bedford, Virginia who lost more on that one day than any other single town in America during World War II, and where America’s D-Day memorial stands today. Today, 74 years later, we know those sacrifices were not made in vain. The Soldiers and people of that generation left us one of the longest periods of peace and stability in European history. Our charge in this generation is to never forget their sacrifice and to ensure we guard and protect their legacy which came at so a high a price.”

In Bedford Brig. Gen. Lapthe Flora, Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General for Army Strategic Initiatives, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris, Virginia National Guard Command Senior Enlisted Leader, placed a wreath honoring U.S. Armed Forces during the ceremony, while Col. Preston Scott, Jr., 29th Infantry Division chief of staff, helped place a wreath honoring the 29th Infantry Division.

“It was a great honor and humbling experience to have participated in this year’s annual D-Day observance,” Flora said. “As a former commander of the famous “Bedford Boys” From Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and the ‘Red Dragons’ of 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and a son of D-Day veteran, the event has a much greater meaning for me personally. Such an event is extremely important, not only to honor our greatest generation but to also constantly educate future generations of the cost of freedom.”

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. However it came with a steep price. More than 10,000 Americans lost their lives on D-Day. The 29th ID’s 116th Infantry Regiment was in the first assault wave to hit the beaches and more than 800 members of the 116th were were killed, wounded or missing during the assault on Omaha Beach.

When the 116th Infantry was activated Feb. 3, 1941, Virginia communities provided Soldiers to serve in the unit, and Bedford provided Soldiers to serve in Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. During the assault on Omaha Beach, 19 of the “Bedford Boys” of Company A died. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation’s most severe D-Day losses.

Recognizing that Bedford represented both large and small communities whose citizen-Soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, and this year’s event marked the 16th anniversary of the historic site’s dedication.

View more photos on Flickr:

74th anniversary of D-Day commemorated in Bedford

29th ID Soldiers remembered at D-Day Memorial

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