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NEWS | June 13, 2024

80th anniversary of D-Day observed abroad, at home

By Cotton Puryear | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Virginia National Guard Soldiers paid tribute to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the U.S. and Allied Forces who participated in the June 1944 invasion of Normandy and commemorated the 80th anniversary of D-Day at multiple events on and around June 6, 2024, in France, Virginia and Louisiana.

“We gather here today, at this solemn and revered National Guard Monument in Normandy, almost a stone’s throw away from Dog Green Beach, to honor the brave souls known as the Bedford Boys,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph A. DiNonno, Commanding General of the 29th Infantry Division. “It is with profound gratitude and deep respect that we commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, a day that marked a turning point in history and showcased unparalleled bravery and sacrifice.”

The Bedford Boys have come to symbolize the courage and sacrifice of thousands of U.S. and Allied forces who stormed the beaches of Normandy June 6, 1944, and began the push to end Nazi tyranny in Europe.

During the assault on Omaha Beach, 19 of the Soldiers assigned to Bedford’s Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division died. The town’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 story of the Bedford Boys is a poignant testament to the human cost of war,” DiNonno said. “The impact of their loss resonated through the entire town, leaving a legacy of grief but also of immense pride.”

DiNonno said the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford and monument in Normandy share a common purpose, but each hold a unique significance.

“The monument in Normandy stands on the very soil where these men fought and died, making it a place of pilgrimage for those wishing to honor their memory in the context of the battle they waged,” he said. “The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford offers a place for the community to gather, to educate future generations, and to keep the memory of the Bedford Boys alive within the fabric of American history.“

In Bedford on June 6, Governor Glenn Youngkin delivered a memorial salutation on behalf of a grateful commonwealth, and retired Maj. Gen. Craig Crenshaw, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, and Brig. Gen. Christopher J. Samulski, 29th Infantry Division Deputy Commanding General - Operations, were among those reading historical excerpts. All three leaders shook hands, recognized the World War II veterans in attendance and thanked them for their service. VNG Soldiers assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team escorted WWII veterans during an honor parade and roll call.

“What a privilege it is to stand in front of you and revere and commemorate with profound gratitude the courage and sacrifice that so many heroes made on that fateful day,” Youngkin said. “Eighty years ago today, history was made. American heroes alongside heroes from nations around the world our allies and our friends fought and died for precious freedom. From this quiet town in Bedford Virginia, ordinary men did the extraordinary. They left everything the knew. They crossed an ocean knowing many would not return. They had an undeniable belief that America stands for something immensely good.”

Back in France, Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division took part in multiple commemoration events in the days leading up to June 6.

DiNonno carried a wreath with Antoine de Bellaigue, mayor of Vierville-sur-Mer, during a remembrance ceremony June 2 at the National Guard Monument at Dog Green Beach. DiNonno and Bellaigue offered remarks to a large crowd against the beach and a formation of 29th Infantry Division and 75th Ranger Regiment Soldiers. Soldiers assigned to Alpha and Bravo Companies, 116th Infantry Regiment and 2nd Ranger Battalion were part of the first wave of Allied forces to storm Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. The ceremony concluded with the 29th Infantry Division Band playing the United States National Anthem, French National Anthem and taps.

Soldiers of the 29th visited the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial June 2 in Colleville-sur-Mer where Brig. Gen. Wesley Murray, 29th Infantry Division deputy commanding general - support, placed a wreath to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, the Adjutant General of Virginia, joined Murray to lay wreaths along with Mayor Antoine de Bellaigue June 4 at the 29th Infantry Division Monument in Vierville-sur-Mer.

“It was an absolute privilege to be part of the 80th anniversary commemorating not only D-Day, but the U.S. and Allied Forces bringing liberation to Europe,” said Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, the Adjutant General of Virginia, who took part in multiple events in France. “We heard mayor after mayor describe what it meant for their towns to be freed from Nazi oppression, and it serves as a reminder of the tremendous impact of service and sacrifice.”

Ring said another key lesson from D-Day is the importance of continuing to work with our allies.

“With our allies and partners, we stand stronger together,” Ring said. “Not only flowing on to the beaches of Normandy, but continuing to serve together to bring peace and stability back to the continent of Europe. We value our allies and partners today, and we must continue to train together for the cause of freedom.”

Ring also thanked the men and woman of the Armed Forces, as well as our allies, for their dedicated service towards the ideal of peace and liberty, not just at home, but all over the world.

The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band was also an important component of D-Day observations in France and Louisiana.

From June 2-8, the band conducted 11 different missions where they provided a color guard, bugler or large and small group configurations at different locations including National Guard Monument at Dog Green Beach, the 29th Division Monument, the Wall of Remembrance, Plage "Dog Green" Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery at St. James.

Another element of the 29th ID Band performed at five different events June 5-6 at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. On their way there, they also performed a concert at the Tuskegee National Historical Site

“I attended the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in 2014, and the lasting impact on me was that the French and British citizens are profoundly grateful for the U.S. Soldiers contribution to the liberation of Normandy, France and Europe,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Don Carlson, 29th Infantry Division Band Commander. “I wanted my Soldiers to experience that so that they could more fully understand the history of our unit, the 29th Division, and Virginia Army National Guard.”

Carlson said this trip made an even greater impact than he could have imagined.

“The Soldiers commented how humbling it was to have young school children approach them, recognize our division patch and know the history better than we do,” he said. “My Soldiers saw our patch everywhere and said that they didn't realize how far and wide the 29th Infantry Division's impact reached. They saw our patch on monuments, in the stained glass windows of churches, on re-enactors and on t-shirts. We were able to reinforce the bond between the French people and the U.S. Soldiers and emphasize our commitment to defend the liberty of the Allied Nations.” 

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