OMAHA BEACH, France – More
than 20 Soldiers with the 1st Infantry Di v i s i o n helped commemorate the
70th anniversary of D-Day June 6, by participating in three ceremonies at Omaha
The historic day began at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer,
at an airstrip that was one of the first to be operational shortly after the
D-Day invasion, which was June 6, 1944. The first flight, which transported the
wounded, touched down the evening of June 9, 1944. The 834th Engineer Aviation
Battalion constructed the airstrip in less than two days. The field quickly
became a logistical hub for combat operations for the allied forces in the
Many of the passengers on those
initial flights were Soldiers with the 1st Inf. Div.
First Inf. Div. Command Sgt.
Maj. Michael A. Grinston served as an honorary guest at an airstrip ceremony
June 6, laying flowers to pay homage to those who died trying to build the
Shortly afterward, a
formation of 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers marched down the bluffs, singing cadence on
the way to their next destination. As they passed the bluffs, they were in full
view of the beachhead.
“It’s just shocking,” said
Sgt. Tami VanZandt, geospatial intelligence non-commissioned officer, Special
Troops Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div. “You really
see what advantages (the German defenders) had on us at the time.”
The Soldiers soon arrived
at the 467th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion memorial and
paid their respects with flowers and the playing of “Taps.” The ceremony took
place on a German pillbox where the monument was dedicated in 1994. The
battalion suffered many casualties as they systematically neutralized the
German bunkers defending the beach. Their actions gave 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers
relief, as they continued to storm their objectives on D-Day.
The “Big Red One” Soldiers next
marched along the waters of Normandy to the 1st Inf. Div. and 29th Infantry
Division memorial on Omaha Beach. The site marked where each unit’s area of
responsibility met during the invasion. Grinston again served as the honorary guest
and flowers were placed upon the historical marker.
He was joined by another special
guest, retired Air Force Col. Arnold Gabriel, 89, an honorary conductor for the
D-Day 70 Memorial Wind Band. He led the band, as its members played more than
eight songs during the ceremony. On D-Day, Gabriel was an Army private who
landed with the 29th Inf. Div. in the first wave. He returned for the first time
70 years later.
“Somebody asked me what it
was like on D-Day,” Gabriel said. “It is one of those things that is
indescribable. You can watch a lot of movies, but they’ll never be able to capture
the real chaos that really happened.”
For his bravery and
actions, local French leaders awarded him with a French Musical Doctorate.
Soldiers with the 1st Inf. Div. focused commemoration
efforts across Omaha Beach, as other U.S. Army units attended the ceremony at
the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.