Va. Guard joins tribute to D-Day at 69th anniversary observance

Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry provide a color guard for the observation of the 69th anniversary of the D-Day invasion June 6, 2013, in Bedford. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry provide a color guard for the observation of the 69th anniversary of the D-Day invasion June 6, 2013, in Bedford. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

BEDFORD, Va. — Senior Virginia National Guard leaders and Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team paid tribute to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of D-Day participants at the observance of the 69th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy June 6, 2013, at Bedford Elementary School in Bedford, Va. Heavy rains forced a venue change from the National D-Day Memorial to the school.

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia and former 29th Infantry Division commander, and Maj. Gen. Charles W. Whittington, Jr., current commander of the 29th Infantry Division, laid memorial wreathes, and 1st Battalion Soldiers provided a color guard for the event and also assisted with the wreath presentations.

“I am honored to be a part of Company A and to be here with the veterans and honor this day means a lot,” said Staff Sgt. John Stewart, a squad leader assigned to Bedford’s Company A who volunteered to be part of the color guard. “I just wanted to come out and show my support.”

Stewart has deployed four times in his military career, and he said the opportunity to talk with the D-Day veterans has been inspirational to him.

“This is the lineage and honors of the unit coming to life,” said Lt. Col. Allan Carter, commander of 1st Battalion. “We can talk about it all day long, but when they come here and see the ceremony and meet the veterans, it gives greater meaning to the battle streamers on the flag and the unit citation the Soldiers wear on their uniform.”

Like 11 other Virginia communities, Bedford provided Soldiers to serve in Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division when the 116th was activated on Feb. 3, 1941. During the assault on Omaha Beach, 19 of the “Bedford Boys” of Company A died. Bedford’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, and this year’s event marked the 12th anniversary of the historic site’s dedication.

Whittington stressed the importance of talking about D-Day and telling the story of the courage and determination made by D-Day participants to sacrifice on behalf of something greater. “We owe it to our children, and our children’s children, to teach them the stories of the men and women responsible for making us the greatest country in the world,” he said. “We still have so much to learn from this greatest generation, and we can’t sit back and assume someone else will tell their stories. That’s our job. We will do future generations a huge disservice if we don’t let them who are responsible for making us the greatest country in the world.”

Long and Whittington laid memorial wreathes as part of the observance along with Col. Jacques Aragones, military attache to the Embassy of France, Lt. Col. Helen Bowman of the British Army, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and Pvt. Jeffrey Christian and Staff Sgt. Justin Owen from Company A.

“Today’s remembrance is a very important and critical part of telling the story and helps preserve the legacy of this great generation,” Long said as he called the D-Day veterans up to be recognized during the ceremony. “It also gives us the opportunity to pause and think about one of the greatest and most significant events that happened in the last century.”

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 more than 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.

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia and former 29th Infantry Division commander, and Maj. Gen. Charles W. Whittington, Jr., current commander of the 29th Infantry Division, present memorial wreathes as part of the observance along with Col. Jacques Aragones, military attache to the Embassy of France, Lt. Col. Helen Bowman of the British Army, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and Pvt. Jeffrey Christian and Staff Sgt. Justin Owen from Company A. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia and former 29th Infantry Division commander, and Maj. Gen. Charles W. Whittington, Jr., current commander of the 29th Infantry Division, present memorial wreathes as part of the observance along with Col. Jacques Aragones, military attache to the Embassy of France, Lt. Col. Helen Bowman of the British Army, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and Pvt. Jeffrey Christian and Staff Sgt. Justin Owen from Company A. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

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