June 4, 2009

D-Day anniversary remembered at home and abroad

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. — This year marks the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, a campaign that helped liberate France and bring an end to World War II, and the Virginia Army National Guard will have elements of their key units who participated in the battles of D-Day represented in ceremonies in France and the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

  D-Day ceremony 2008

A Virginia National Guard Soldier escorts a D-Day veteran during the 2008 anniversary ceremony in Bedford. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team will have Soldiers on hand in Bedford Saturday to escort some of the Veterans of the historic invasion to their seats during the ceremony, according to Lt. Col. Scott Smith, commander of the 1st Battalion. The 116th Infantry Regiment was one of the key units at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

“It is a real honor for us to escort the D-Day veterans,” said Smith. “Our Soldiers share the same 29th Infantry Division patch as those who stormed the beach of Normandy, and many of these Soldiers have served their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It is a tremendous connection that both generations share.”

The 10-13 Soldiers on hand will be from the battalion’s A company. The Bedford-based company lost more Soldiers per capita than any other community in the nation during the invasion. It is said for that reason, in 2001 when the memorial was built, Bedford was chosen as the home for the 9-acre complex.

According to the memorial’s official website, Congress warranted the establishment of the memorial in Bedford because it was “emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-Soldiers served on D-Day. While the next generation of “Bedford Boys” will be paying tribute to the veterans of D-Day here on American soil, the commander and a team of Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division Headquarters (the commanding unit of the 116th on D-Day) will be on Omaha Beach in Normandy.

The division commander, Maj. Gen. Grant Hayden and Command Sergeant Major Dennis Green, accompanied by a color guard comprised of current 29th Division Soldiers for a wreath laying ceremony at the 29th ID Memorial in France and will then travel to Omaha Beach and Utah Beach on June 6.

The Division Soldiers left for France on June 1 and will be spending approximately two weeks traveling the French countryside following in the footsteps of the Soldiers who fought their way across the country 65 years ago, according to Maj. John McLees, project officer for the trip.

According to McLees, they will travel to many towns liberated by the 29th ID and do a final stop to pay respects at the French Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Along the way they will lay wreaths, assist with plaque dedications and will even participate in a ceremony that renames a town square in honor of the division.

With the aging of the Soldiers who fought so hard to liberate France and decisively contributed to the end of WWII, there will be increasingly less opportunities for younger generations and historians to hear first account tales of the D-Day invasion, but that will not stop the stories from being told according to Hayden.

Additionally, in May of this year, Fox Studios released X-Men Origins: Wolverine where actors Hugh Jackman and Liev Shreiber are seen storming the beaches of Normandy alongside Soldiers wearing blue and grey yin-yang patches, the division patch of the 29th and the 116th.

The film’s military advisor, Sgt. Maj. (ret.) James Dever, chose the 29th ID because of the historical significance on D-Day and the recognition of the patch and gave the actors military training and educated them on the historical significance of the Division and their role in the invasion.

“The main actors were extremely interested in the significance of the 29th ID and portraying the landing as accurately as possible,” said Dever.

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