Naval Forces Europe, Africa Commander pays tribute to Heroes of WWII
DRAGUIGNAN, France – Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa paid tribute to those who served in World War II at Rhone American National Cemetery in Draguignan, France, as part of a Memorial Day ceremony, May 29.
During the ceremony, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, laid a wreath in honor of the 861 Americans buried at Rhone American National Cemetery and gave a speech marking the importance of Memorial Day.
"I stand before you with great humility and pride on this deeply meaningful and special day," said Locklear. "This, the final resting place and once battlefield of war, is dedicated to the 861 Americans who fought and died for the liberation of Southern France. These brave men charged from the sea and prevented the enemy from reinforcing their stronghold in Normandy. The offensive helped usher the success of the largest landing in history to the north, helping liberate not just France but Europe as well.”
Locklear spoke aboutamphibious assaultof August 15, 1944, on the beaches of Normandy where the 3rd, 36th and 45th Divisions of the U.S. VI Corps stormed ashore from St. Tropaz to St. Raphael.
“Undoubtedly they were afraid, but they still landed. They fought superbly and marched their way north, 200 miles the first week and in less than one month, advanced more than 400 miles. Their French counterparts took to the west, securing vital rail and port facilities used to re-supply the advancing Allies. Together, their efforts quickly isolated all remaining enemy units in southwestern France,” he said.
He continued talking about the beliefs of freedom and democracy and how they are shared by France and the United States.
“The soil that we stand upon commemorates those who have fallen while protecting the fundamental universal principles of freedom and democracy. Two deeply rooted beliefs shared by France and the United States,” said Locklear. “That is why, on this day, upon this ground, I find it to be deeply meaningful. We not only honor the brave young American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, but we also honor our French compatriots that have equally sacrificed everything to preserve freedom, democracy, and equality. These are the time tested ideals and principles upon which our nation and our Allies, like that of France, firmly stand. These ideals unite us, and help increase our friendship with steady confidence and cheerful optimism.”
The ceremony was organized by the American Overseas Memorial Day Association with support from French military regiments from Canjuers, Draguignan and Dijon Airbase, and United States military members from Naval Support Activity Rota, Spain and Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. It was open to the public with special attendance by Mrs. Diane Kelly, U.S. Consul General in Marseille; Mr. Max Piscrlli, Mayor of Draguignan; and various senior French and U.S military leaders, marking this as one of the largest Memorial Day ceremonies at Rhone American National Cemetery to date.
For Mr. Raymond Gatti, one of many WWII veterans that attended the ceremony noted that it held a special meaning.
“I came to France in December, 1944, and I remember seeing truck loads of bodies, all the soldiers that they were bringing here to be buried,” said Gatti. “None of my friends are buried here, they are all buried in the United States, but this ceremony helps me remember them and the sacrifices they made so that we could all be free.”
Gatti was a Sergeant in the Army and now lives in France and comes to Rhone American National Cemetery ever Memorial Day to pay tribute to all the friends he lost during WWII.
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