By Pam Dudding
There is no greater honor as an American than to serve your country in the armed forces, and there is no greater honor as an American than to honor those who have served, especially those who gave their lives for our freedom.
On Monday, June 6, The D-Day Memorial in Bedford held a service honoring the 78th anniversary of the allied landing of Normandy.
Along with many citizens came family members of those who served, those who gave their lives, those military who are serving and many organizations for the Laying of the Wreaths. Respect, honor, and appreciation penetrated the atmosphere.
Though a great sadness fills many hearts for the thousands of lives lost on that day in Normandy, there was still a sense of pride, as America did what they felt necessary at the time, with the means of ammunition and technology that they had.
Veterans were all around. Some walked, while others used walkers, and many were pushed in wheelchairs. All seemed to carry themselves with a tender pride that seemed easy to capture your heart as you conversed with each.
The program for the day entailed much. The 29th Division Band played intermittently during the entire day. The Drum and Fife team marched in line playing before the presentation of the colors.
“These men and women inspire us to establish our values by the measure of these heroes, especially the heroes of whose feet touched the ground on the 6 day of June 1944, the day they died so that freedom would not,” Director of Education John Long said in his invocation.
“When I reflect on the contributions, the blood, and life that our nation’s citizens have made and continue to make for freedom I am humbled by the character and quality of their service,” he said. “It is remarkable to reflect on how half of one generation, over 75 years ago achieved what seemed to be impossible – liberating the world from tyranny and this memorial stands as a visible reminder of the need that we have here, and to say thank you to all who have put themselves in peril to preserve the liberty that we enjoy. Your commitment has helped to preserve that legacy of watershed event.”
He added, “For over two decades the D-Day Memorial has given emotional comfort, solace, and closure to those who needed it and has educated hundreds of thousands of visitors about the importance of remembering that our liberty and our way of life comes with a deer cost.”
Gary Mignogna, president and CEO of Framatome and chairman of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation welcomed all who attended this annual event, sharing that this is the 22nd year they have had the event. “In having a service at this Memorial, so much time has passed and now we have almost lost an entire World War II generation. According to the VA Less than 240,000 of the 16 million Americans who served are still alive but dying at 200 per day.”
He spoke of Bruce Catton, a Civil War historian and how powerfully he was affected by growing up around so many veterans in war.
In an interview Catton commented, “In one sense they were just small-town boys but yet in another they had been all over hell and back.”
George Patton Waters, the grandson of General George S. Patton Jr shared, “Again, our soldiers from A-Company 1st battalion 116th infantry brigade is serving in Africa with many other soldiers. With many other soldiers from neighboring counties and states, that is the most divisional troops deployed since WWII.” He added for all to thank the families who make daily sacrifices while their loved ones are deployed.
“Here today, we honor our past and our present and look into the future, which is so incredibly important. Thank you for being here today, lest we forget,” Patton-Waters said. “Today’s commemoration is a necessary step in preserving the lessons and the legacy of D-day for our future generations.”
“On this anniversary of D-day, it is my singular privilege to address a distinguished body who belong to allied expeditionary force that invaded occupied France 78 years ago today. Some of you are seated here today at this magnificent memorial to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice that you displayed with such abundance while doing what you believe to be nothing more or less than your duty,” he added. “Most of your brothers and sisters in arms are not here today. But their stories and yours live on from such a day in which uncommon acts of valor, fidelity and sacrifice occurred in such abundance so as to become common. Common in the best sense of that word.”
The 29th division band played Band of Brothers while Normandy and World War II Veteran Attendees went forward. A standing ovation with robust hand claps of the audience started quickly and remained for several minutes as a couple men walked while others were pushed in wheelchairs to their front.
The men were then quickly honored as lines formed of attendees wishing to thank them for their service, showing extreme appreciation. Afterwards, a memorial service was given by Messier at the Bedford Boys statue for Ash Rothlein and Bernard Marie.
Rothlein served with the 187th Advanced Army Ordnance Depot Company and the 187th was awarded many battle credits. He served at the Memorial for a decade before his passing last year. Marie was five years old, sheltered with his mother in a cellar on D-Day.
“Each year we would gather here for a short speech and Ash would remind everyone of those who served and sacrificed, those who never made it home, those who gave all of their tomorrows for our today’s. Then he had everyone repeat after him, in unison, ‘You shall never be forgotten,’” Messier shared. “His unforgettable chant has now become a tradition at the monument. Ash’s life epitomized the tenants of service and sacrifice, and he gave back every chance he could.”
She continued, “For Ash the war was an unforgettable experience that shaped how he lived his life and he would want others to know that the best way to honor his generation is to live a life with meaning and service. He exemplified this in his own way as so many in the World War II generation did.”
Messier shared that he also had a heart to provide scholarships through the memorial for students or to give students an opportunity to travel the beaches of Normandy and learn what took place there so many years ago.
She explained that this past May two students from the Virginia Tech Core of Cadets traveled to Normandy with the scholarship program. Messier led all in Ash’s chant, “You will never be forgotten!”
She then spoke of Bernard Marie. “He was a regular fixture at the Memorial, particularly this time of the year. When he was just five years old, he found himself in the basement of France as the shelling began. Sixteen hours later Bernard and his family emerged to find Americans around them and their life definitely changed. Even at that young age the scene made a lasting imprint on Bernard who would spend much of his life trying to thank those veterans who liberated his homeland.”
Messier explained that it began in 1984 when Marie hosted a lunch for 500 World War II Veterans, being his way of saying thank you. His dinner’s continued Until the 75th anniversary of D-day.
The 29th Division band then played a hymnal to the fallen while wreaths of remembrance were laid on the statue. Displays of things used in the war captured the attention of many as they were explained by military personnel. Many walked the gardens of the Bedford Memorial, looking at the statues, the honorary busts and plaques, explaining much about the Normandy event and peoples. The grand statue of Eisenhower drew several.
Still the replica of the first landing seemed to capture the hearts of all, with statues of the men trying to make the shore, men climbing the wall while some were shot and falling off and of course the vivid shots that penetrated the water, which reminded everyone that this was a real event.
The Bedford D-Day Memorial truly works diligently every year to honor the military of our United States of America, showing sincere respect not only to the Veterans who were lost but to all who served, their families and to our military of today.