NEWS | June 17, 2021

Ceremony remembers 77th anniversary of D-Day

By Cotton Puryear Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

The valor, fidelity and sacrifice of D-Day participants were remembered June 6, 2021, at the observance of the 77th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Retired Brig. Gen. Peter C. Hinz, national commander of the 29th Division Association, and Col. Christopher J. Samulski, commander of the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, placed the wreath honoring all U.S. forces during the ceremony. The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided the color guard, drum and fife and ceremonial music for the event. Three World War II veterans were recognized, and Normandy veteran Ash Rothlein shared his experience with attendees.

“We started across the beach in a heavy fog moving up a step bluff … the fog lifted to reveal a sight so shocking and stark in its finality my internal response was seismic and everlasting,” Rothlein said. “Grave markers littered the ground as far as the eye could see. Those brave warriors paid with their lives so I and my band of brothers could crest that hill and do our part to win the war. I still feel the sadness, guilt and determination of that memorable experience.”

Once the beaches were cleared, thousands of ships were bringing additional personnel, weapons and other supples ashore to continue the Allied assault into France. Rothlein served with the 187th Advanced Army Ordinance Depot Company and drove a 6 x 6 heavy cargo truck. In late July, he was part of a convoy of 140 vehicles of armored vehicles and munition supplies headed to the front lines. Along the route, they approach a French village and were

“Every church bell tolled nonstop, and the citizens lined both sides of the road waving and cheering us on,” he said. “Our convoy paused. We were spell bound and overcome with this generous reception. With the site of our massive convoy approaching, they realized they were indeed liberated.”

Earlier in the day, Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted a memorial ruck march from the Bedford Armory to the D-Memorial. Lt. Col. Jim Tierney, commander of 1st Battalion, said the battalion staff, company commanders and first sergeants used the march to reflect back on 77 years ago to remember the Soldiers from the battalion who stormed the beach of Normandy.

“We owe it to them to pay respect to them and hold the traditions and legacies they set for us,” Tierney said. “As members of the 1-116th, we always take time to reflect and make sure we properly respect the commitment, courage, bravery and sacrifices they provided when they stormed the beaches of Normandy. It is incredibly humbling to be here at this memorial and remember the sacrifices of those who went before us.”

First Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Wolfe has visited Normandy and seen first hand the challenging terrain the Soldiers faced 77 years earlier and compared it the experience of being at the National D-Day Memorial.

“In America, we don’t have beaches like the beaches at Normandy,” Wolfe said. “The beach is so long. Just seeing how far they really had to go when the tide is out to come across those beaches is absolutely humbling. When I am here at this location, I feel the same way. Just in awe of what was achieved and the sacrifices those Soldiers made.”

More than 800 members of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division were killed, wounded or missing during the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, but their courage and bravery helped create a foothold that allowed follow on forces to continue the assault and set the stage for Allied victory in Europe.

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.

The 111th Field Artillery Battalion was designated as the initial artillery unit to land at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. After being mobilized into active federal service for World War II in February 1941, the battalion earned four campaign ribbons in the European Theater of Operations, including the initial Normandy landings and suffered 39 battle deaths. They were in federal service for nearly five years while serving in the 29th Infantry Division.

According to their web site, the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated on June 6th, 2001. It was constructed in honor of those who died on D-Day, fighting in one of the most significant battles in our nations history. Initiated by D-Day veteran J. Robert “Bob” Slaughter, the structure encompasses more than 50 acres at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At its center stands a monumental forty-four foot tall arch, embellished by the military name, “Overlord,” that was given to the crucial operation. The arch is highlighted by a reflecting pool that surrounds a captivating scene that is symbolic of the arduous trudge soldiers made onto the blood stained beaches of Normandy, France.
Photos: Ceremony remembers 77th anniversary of D-Day

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