D-Day service and sacrifice honored at events across the globe

The 29th Infantry Division Color Guard renders honors during a ceremony near Hemevez, France June 3, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Sean McCollum)

BEDFORD, Va. — On the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, Soldiers, citizens and leaders took part in ceremonial events June 3-6, 2017, in Virginia, France and the U.S. Army Central Command area of operations to honor the World War II veterans who stormed the beaches of Normandy along with those who gave their lives in support of the Allied invasion.

“I am both honored and humbled to be here today to represent the United States and the Soldiers who fought here 73 year ago,” said Col. E. Scott Smith, commander of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, at a ceremony honoring World War II veterans June 5 at the Franco-American memorial in Graignes, France. “We must never forget the struggle 73 years ago and the lives lost fighting against tyranny and oppression.”

Smith said that France and America are joined forever with one history, bound together in blood and sacrifice.

“Those of us who follow in the footsteps of the Soldiers and civilians who gave their lives here must also be willing to fight and if necessary die defending freedom and liberty whether it be our own or that of our fellow man and our allies,” he said. “I thank you for honoring the memory of those lost and celebrating their actions.”

Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division Color Guard participated in a ceremony honoring World War II veterans held June 6, 2017, at the Omaha Beach memorial in St. Laurent-Sur-Mer, France.

At the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, presented the invocation and placed a wreath with Brig. Gen. Walter Mercer, Virginia National Guard Assistant Adjutant General – Army, honoring U.S. Armed Forces. The Clifton Forge-based 29th Division Band provided music for the ceremony.

In the U.S. Army Central Command area of operations, Soldiers assigned to the 29th Infantry Division and deployed on federal active duty took part in ceremonial runs on D-Day. Maj. Gen. Ortner, 29th Infantry Division commander, was in Afghanistan visiting Soldiers under his command supporting Operation Spartan Shield.

“As we visited with the troops they would remind us of where the division was 73 years ago,” said Ortner. “It was inspiring to see their genuine interest in the division’s history as we talked about the landing on Omaha Beach.”

On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. However it came with a steep price. More than 10,000 Americans lost their lives on D-Day. The 29th ID’s 116th Infantry Regiment was in the first assault wave to hit the beaches and more than 800 members of the 116th were were killed, wounded or missing during the assault on Omaha Beach.

When the 116th Infantry was activated Feb. 3, 1941, Virginia communities provided Soldiers to serve in the unit, and Bedford provided Soldiers to serve in Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. 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 16th anniversary of the historic site’s dedication.