NEWS | June 14, 2022

Virginia National Guard helps commemorate 78th anniversary of D-Day

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

BEDFORD, Va. — Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Virginia National Guard Soldiers, including the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band, participated in the commemoration of the 78th anniversary of the 1944 Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy June 6, 2022, at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. 

While service members, veterans and their fellow Virginians honored the D-Day legacy at the national memorial in Bedford, a contingent of 29th Infantry Division Soldiers was able to make the trip to Normandy to participate in commemoration events there. At at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to Task Force Red Dragon, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, hosted a D-Day commemoration ceremony and ruck march to remember the sacrifices of Allied forces during the storming of the Normandy beachhead during World War II. Task Force Red Dragon conducted their departure ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford in November 2021.

Two days before the anniversary, also at the D-Day Memorial, VNG Soldiers assigned to the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and alumni from The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, attended a memorial plaque dedication, honoring all graduates and former cadets of The Citadel who participated in the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II, including the Virginia National Guard’s Maj. Thomas D. Howie. Howie served as the 116h Infantry Regiment’s operations officer during the landing, and was later killed while devising a plan to take the town of Saint Lô, earning him the nickname “The Major of Saint Lô.” Read more about Howie here

The 29th ID Band performed ceremonial music for both the plaque dedication and the official D-Day commemoration event, during which Williams gave remarks highlighting the historic importance of the World War II invasion of Normandy, France, including the sacrifices of Virginia National Guard Soldiers who died during and after the landing.

“What we do here today in Bedford by honoring our past, honoring our present and looking to the future is so important, lest we forget,” said Williams. 

Williams also said the legacy those who fought on the beaches of Normandy has carried on, and is reflected in the successes of those same units, including those currently deployed around the world. 

“Seventy-eight years since June 6, 1944, Bedford once again answers the call of duty as Soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade are currently serving in the Horn of Africa with more than 1,000 other Soldiers from places like Lynchburg, the Roanoke Valley, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Richmond and all over the Commonwealth,” said Williams during his remarks. “These sons, daughters, husbands, wives, our Soldiers, are around the globe now carrying on the legacy of all we remember today.”

The ceremony was attended by three World War II veterans, as well as hundreds of other veterans, service members and citizens. 

“A familiar quote states that ‘A nation that forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.’ Thanks to the team here, we will not forget what the price of freedom is,” said Williams. “We just can't say ‘thank you’ enough to the staff here at the D-Day Memorial. The hard work that goes into the programming and maintaining of this national treasure is extraordinary.”

The 29th ID Band performed ceremonial music at the commemoration, and also provided a color guard and drum and fife performance. For the band’s Soldiers, playing at such an important event holds extra significance. 

“I have been a part of D-Day Events in Bedford for over 20 years,” said Sgt. 1st Class Richard A. Carr, Jr., the band’s readiness noncommissioned officer. “Every year is special and now that we have less of them every year, it is even more special. This event is not about the Band or myself it is about honoring the Soldiers who fought there and more importantly the ones who give everything there. The honor for us is to remember them and what they did and achieved; which was to free Europe.”

“Every time I have been able to participate in this event there has been an incredible weight in remembrance of the valor of those who died in the D-Day invasion,” added Spc. Tyler Hutchins. “These heroes must never be forgotten. To be able to be a part of their recognition so that they are not forgotten is an extraordinary opportunity and somber responsibility.”

“As a current member of the 29th Division Band, this ceremony is even more meaningful knowing that our predecessors in the band were there on Omaha Beach in 1944. It's so fitting that we are the ones to play for their memory 78 years later,” said Spc. Jessica Tang. “This was my first time ever marching here with our Fife and Drum Ensemble to open the ceremony. I was excited, and a bit anxious, because I was so determined to give my absolute best performance. I especially felt that all the veterans in the audience deserved no less than perfection from us.”

In France, at a ceremony at the National Guard Monument and 116th Infantry Regiment Monument on Omaha Beach, Brig. Gen. Joseph DiNonno, the 29th ID Deputy Commanding General - Operations, delivered remarks. He also laid a wreath with the mayor of Vierville, France, at a Signal Monument at Omaha Beach.

DiNonno participated in a third ceremony honoring, in part, Tech Sgt. Frank Peregory, a Virginia National Guard Soldier who earned the Medal of Honor for single-handedly destroying multiple enemy strongpoints during fighting in Normandy. Peregory was killed in battle a few days later, and is laid to rest in the Normandy American Cemetery. 29th Infantry Division Soldiers provided the color guard and Soldiers in formation for the ceremony. 

In Africa, Lt. Col. Jim Tierney, Task Force Red Dragon commander, shared his own remarks on the importance of remembering the historic date, its significance to the Virginia Army National Guardsmen, and spoke of the familiarity of the names and the homes of those men who stormed Fortress Europe.

“They hailed from the same locations across Virginia and Maryland,” he said. “Roanoke, Bedford, Christiansburg, Charlottesville and Lynchburg. They trained at some of the same locations that we trained, during our pre-deployment train-up.”

French resistance fighters conducted more than 1,000 acts of sabotage between June 5 and 6 and made countless intelligence reports that helped to shape the success of the allied invasion of Normandy, according to Tierney.

“Operation Overlord is the staunchest of reminders that joint and allied warfare, though challenging and complex, is critical to achieving our shared objectives,” Tierney said. “Words spoken here today will never accurately reflect the sacrifices and heroic actions conducted by those brave Soldiers who fought on ‘Bloody Omaha’. I ask each of you to reflect on those who fought through hell on June 6, 1944, and commit to remembering their sacrifices today, and every day.”

Read more about the Task Force Red Dragon ceremony at https://ngpa.us/20202

At Fort Pickett, Virginia, a brief ceremony was held to commemorate D-Day and the sacrifices of one Virginia National Guard Soldier in particular. The ceremony was held at Mullins Corner, named after Lt. Col. Thornton Loquette Mullins. 

Mullins was the commanding officer of the 111th Field Artillery during D-Day. After several of their cannons were lost before the boats landed on Omaha Beach, Mullins infamously said, “To Hell with our artillery mission, we’re infantrymen now!”  

Despite being twice wounded, Mullins organized small groups of infantry, successfully destroying enemy positions. He was then killed by a sniper, and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. 

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