BEDFORD, Va. — Senior leaders of the 29th Infantry Division and members of the 29th Division Band joined thousands of Americans, French and citizens of other Allied countries at ceremonies commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy at events June 6, 2015, in Bedford, Va., Yorktown, Va., and on the beaches of Normandy, France.
Maj. Gen. Charles W. Whittington, commanding general of the 29th Infantry Division, and a small delegation, including members of the 29th Division Band, traveled to France to represent the division during commemoration ceremonies there.
Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, deputy commanding general of the 29th Infantry Division, joined members of the 29th Infantry Division Association in placing a memorial wreath for the division at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. In addition, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Brig. Gen. Walter Mercer, the Assitant Adjutant General of Virginia – Army, presented a wreath at the D-Day Memorial honoring the United States of America along with other Allied countries who took part in the invasion.
“One of the greatest honors is to come out and represent the division and recognize those individuals who really made a name for the 29th ID,” Ortner said. “To be able to be part of a division that has that sort of legacy really makes you want to continue that and not do anything that would let them down. To come out here and recognize those individuals that made those sacrifices is probably the greatest honor of being part of the 29th.”
Col. Todd Hubbard, chief of fires for the 29th ID, represented the division at a wreath-laying ceremony in Yorktown, Va. Hubbard joined fellow American military officers as well as French military officers at the ceremony, which was held in conjunction with a celebration honoring the arrival of “The Hermione,” a replica of the French ship built in 1778 which helped defeat the British Army at Yorktown in 1781.
“When you come to Yorktown, we first think of our Revolutionary War and how our French Allies helped us gain our independence,” Hubbard said in his remarks. But the American and French relationship continued in World War I and then during World War II, he said.
“So today, we are grateful for the veterans of those past conflicts,” Hubbard said. “We strive to emulate them as we struggle in the uncertain and ambiguous environment of today’s world. America and France continue the strong relationships enjoyed in the past.”
Members of the 29th Division Band performed both in France and at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. In Bedford, retired Air Force Col. Arnald D. Gabriel conducted the band during a special concert following the ceremony. Gabriel was a combat machine gunner with the 29th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II where he earned two Bronze Star Medals, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the French Croix de Guerre. He went on to serve as the commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Singing Sergeants from 1964 to 1985, and his 21-year tenure was the longest in that organization’s history. He retired in 1985 following a 36-year military career.
Following his performance with the band, Williams and the leadership of the 29th Division Band presented Gabriel with a group photo and a certificate naming him Conductor Emeritus for the band.
“America owes a debt of gratitude to those courageous members of our nation’s armed forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco of Virginia Beach, the guest speaker at the ceremony in Bedford. “It is because of their sacrifice that the freedoms and liberties of which I speak shall be preserved for all future generations to come.”
Barraco was an American teenager living in Belgium when World War II broke out. She joined a resistance group and aided downed allied pilots, hid Jewish citizens, and snuck supplies to those held in Nazi prisons and detention camps. She was eventually captured and subjected to torture by the Gestapo. The king of Belgium knighted her in 2004.
“To many people, what happened that long ago is past history,” she said. “But to those of us who lived through it, it was yesterday, it is today, and if we do not remember, it will be tomorrow.”
Operation Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944.
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 14th anniversary of the historic site’s dedication.
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.
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.