June 10, 2011

Virginia Soldiers join D-Day ceremony in Bedford on 67th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy

By Cotton Puryear        
Virginia Department of Military Affairs

BEDFORD, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, 116th Brigade Combat Team provided a color guard and other support, and the Petersburg-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided live music at the commemoration event held June 6, 2011 at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford to mark the 67th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

 

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, 116th Brigade Combat Team provided a color guard and other support at the commemoration event held June 6, 2011 at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford to mark the 67th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)


Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

“The Soldiers were very excited and supportive of the event and felt like they were doing their part to honor the sacrifices of those who came before them and continuing the tradition of service,” said Lt. Col. Allan Carter, commander of 1st Battalion. “They enjoyed meeting, visiting and supporting the veterans by assisting them to their seats if they needed help and making sure they had water on a hot day.”

Carter said that some of the Soldiers were able to exchange brief stories about their current experiences and were awestruck by some of the stories the veterans had.

“Being from 1-116, they were all aware of symbolism and why the memorial is in Bedford,” Carter said. “More than half of the Soldiers that participated in the ceremony were from Company A and they are proud to call themselves the current day Bedford Boys.”

Despite the high temperatures the day of the ceremony, the Soldiers kept things in perspective.

“We have to stand in the sun at parade rest for an hour, they stormed a beach riddled with bullets and people trying to kill them,” said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Tomkinson. “It's the least we can do today.”

Like 11 other Virginia communities, Bedford provided a company of Soldiers, Company A, to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard's 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on Feb. 3, 1941, and 19 of the "Bedford Boys" died during the assault on Omaha Beach. Bedford's population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation's most severe D-Day losses.

 

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard's Petersburg-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided live music at the commemoration event held June 6, 2011 at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford to mark the 67th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

Click HERE to view more photos on Flickr.

Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, 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 10th anniversary of the historic site's dedication.

“It's very important that Soldiers from the 116th are present at this or any ceremony where we honor those that came before us,” Carter said. “It teaches young Soldiers history, sometimes by firsthand accounts, it develops pride in their unit and in a small way gives back to the people that gave us so much. Since Bedford is in our backyard, it's our duty to represent not only the 1-116 and the 29th Division but all of the units and services that participated in D-Day that could not be represented.”

Dedicated by the President of the United States on June 6, 2001, the National D-Day Memorial exists in tribute to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The National D- Day Memorial Foundation operates and maintains the Memorial, and its educational mission is to preserve the lessons and legacy of D-Day.

Operation Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. Many of the first young men, most not yet 20 years old, entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection.

The Memorial has four major components that represent the sweep of D-Day from the early planning and preparation for it, through the Channel crossing and landing in France, on to the Allied victory and consolidation on the beaches, and beyond Normandy into the landscape  of postwar Europe. Within those components, visitors encounter a moving array of small memorials and tributes. Many of those are brought to life by the figurative sculpture emplaced throughout the Memorial.

“It was great to do our part in supporting the ceremony to show those who gave so much on June 6, 1944 that they would always have a place in our hearts, that their sacrifice would never be forgotten and that the torch has been passed to the next generation,” Carter said. “The entire 1-116 is proud of the lineage provided by the great Americans that came before us. I don't think Soldiers currently serving realize yet that they are doing their part to pass along to the next generation what was inherited by these great veterans honored at the ceremony. They are passing on the spirit of 9/11, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the War on Terror and service to citizens of the Commonwealth in time of need.”

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