NORMANDY, FRANCE – Buses
full of Soldiers navigated the narrow French streets. As they passed through
villages, they found the roadways packed with people waving American flags. When
they unloaded at each destination, they were greeted with cheers, hugs and
The Soldiers got a hero’s welcome
as they helped commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landing in
More than 22 Soldiers from the
1st Infantry Division, alongside members of 101st Airborne Division, 75th
Ranger Regiment, 173rd Airborne Division, 10th Special Forces Group, 29th Infantry
Division, British forces and French and German armies were asked to provide
support during ceremonies honoring the troops who stormed the beaches during
World War II seven decades ago.
Atop a hill overlooking Omaha
Beach, 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers conducted a ceremony June 5 honoring their fellow
“Big Red One” Soldiers.
Patrick Thomines, mayor of the
coastal village of Colleville-sur-Mer, spoke during the event about the famed
“The 1st Infantry will
always have a home here,” Thomines said through a translator. “The sacrifice
and loss you made cannot be repaid. It has created a lasting bond that is not
bounded by continents and oceans.”
The town was a strategic beachhead
that bared the brunt of the initial invasion. Much of the town was destroyed
during American navel bombardments, as the Germans were pushed farther from
“The lives of the sons of America
allowed us to be free,” Thomines said. “You gave us our village back. From my heart,
The ceremony also featured a
“Big Red One” Soldier who approached that beach June 6, 1944.
“I remember, as I
approached the beach, looking out from our landing craft and seeing the
Notre-Dame de l’Assomption steeple,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Ryan.
“I thought it was the only pretty thing in front of me.”
That was the last memory Ryan
recalled before hitting the sand.
Ryan suffered a concussion as
his boat was hit by an 88mm mortar, launching the boat on its side and ejecting
its passengers. He awoke about two hours later against an embankment, as the
battle raged on around him.
“My boat getting hit by that
round saved my life,” Ryan said. “There is no way I would’ve survived that
landing if the door would’ve dropped. If you stayed on the boat long enough for
it open, you died.”
Ryan would remain on the beach
until 10 p.m., before being sent to England for medical treatment. His recount
of that morning resonated with many. Tears were streaming from the faces of
those in the crowd that surrounded the monument.
As the ceremony concluded, honorary guest 1st Inf.
Div. Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, Ryan and Thomines laid flowers at
the base of the monument. Many in the crowd followed behind them to pay their
respects the fallen men of the “Big Red One.”