Sunday, June 07, 2009

Veterans Take Center Stage in D-Day Commemoration

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 7, 2009 - For nearly a week Department of Defense civilians and servicemembers from the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines have been deployed to the small French town of Sainte Mere Eglise and this memorial beside Omaha Beach supporting events in honor of the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Towns across Normandy have also been abuzz with history buffs, tourists, reenactors in period uniforms driving World War II tanks, trucks and jeeps, and more than two dozen surviving World War II veterans attending commemorative events in the region.

The big event of the week was U.S. President Barack Obama's involvement in the ceremony here June 6, the actual anniversary date. On that day the cemetery, home to the remains of 9,387 American servicemembers who gave their lives here, was the talk of the international media, as nearly 600 correspondents from media ranging from local French newspapers to CNN were on scene at the 172-acre burial grounds to capture Obama's comments during the ceremony. Yet many servicemembers said that while the president's visit was the icing on the cake, the focus of the event remained right where it should be - on the veterans.

"I have the utmost respect for the commander-in-chief," said Pfc. Lawrence Hall, 1st Infantry Division M1 Abrams tank driver at Fort Riley, Kansas, and one of the youngest servicemembers at the event. "I am glad he is here to celebrate this moment with us, but for me it is all about the veterans."

Hall's sentiments were echoed by many other military men and women here.

"I am looking forward to seeing some of the veterans from 1st Infantry Division. We don't have but six or seven D-Day survivors left that can come out to these events any more," said Pfc. Aaron Fisher, who is also assigned to the 1st Infantry Division.

"Even if I wasn't tasked to support the presidential speech at the event, I would still come out to the event," said Fisher. "I've gotten to meet a couple veterans. Each one's story impresses me more than I ever knew they could."

Obama's remarks focused on the veterans as well.

"You, the veterans, are the reason we come back here every year," he said. "I know this trip here doesn't get any easier for you each year, but we must not forget. You changed the world. You could have hid, you could have run, but instead you stayed and fought, fought for freedom."

This year's D-Day anniversary ceremonies may prove to be more important than those in previous years just by virtue of time. Veterans of World War II are at least in their 80s now, a point driven home by Obama's remarks about the death of 101st Airborne Division veteran Jim Norene, who came to Normandy for the ceremony but died the night before.

"Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not return," the president said. "But just as he did 65 years ago -- he came anyway. May he now rest in peace with the boys he once bled with, and may his family always find solace in the heroism he showed here."

In addition to the more than 9,000 remains buried on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach, the cemetery has the names of 1,557 Americans who lost their lives in the conflict but could not be located or identified, inscribed on the walls of a semicircular garden.

"There is no more important reason to come here other than to honor their legacy, no matter who comes," said Hall. "If they're here this weekend, I'll be here."

(U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss is assigned to the 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office.)

Obama Joins Other Heads of State to Honor D-Day Veterans

By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Henry
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 7, 2009 - U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prince Charles of Wales, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke here yesterday at a ceremony honoring the servicemembers who fought and died during the allied invasion of Normandy 65 years ago. "You, the veterans of that landing, are why we still remember what happened on D-Day. You remind us that in the end human destiny is not determined by forces beyond our control," Obama said. "Our history has always been the sum total of the choices made, and the actions taken, by each individual man and women. It's always been up to us."

Obama came to Normandy after the president visited Cairo, reaching out to Muslims to seek a new beginning and build new partnerships to fight violent extremists, and Germany, where he visited the site of the World War II Buchenwald concentration camp and wounded servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

More than 100 World War II veterans from Great Britain, Canada and the United States attended the ceremony. Military aircraft from France, Great Britain and the United States performed a flyover, and the U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus provided music. Hundreds more military and civilian members of all services from across Europe and the U.S. also supported the event.

The allied invasion of Normandy marked the greatest seaborne invasion in history, with about 155,000 servicemembers, 5,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles and 11,000 aircraft. The allies paid a heavy price for the daring assault; about 2,500 were killed and thousands more injured in the operation.

The U.S. First Army established a cemetery here June 8, 1944. The first American cemetery on European soil in World War II, today it is the final resting place for 9,387 servicemembers.

(U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Henry is assigned to Navy Public Affairs Support Element East Detachment Europe.)

Brown Water Navy Enthusiasts, Your Time Has Come

The Launching of USS Freedom (LCS-1) signals a new era for the USN.

Unlike the Cold War era fighting platforms such as the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer and the Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS Freedom and its dozens of sister ships to follow are meant to operate near shore, in shallow waters, estuaries, and deep rivers.

The Littoral Combat Ship will be capable of 45 knots, features one 57mm forward gun, a compliment of Raytheon RAM Missiles, and can can two helicopters AND three UAVs. The LCS has crew of 40.

The LCS is an ideal ship for near shore insurgent environments like Somalia, where pirates have become notorious for their brazen raids on international shipping. The LCS would also be handy for patrols off the coast of Lebanon or Gaza, to observe the situation there or intercept smugglers.

One problem, when dealing with pirates is the potential cost. In any battle off Somalia, the pirates are risking a motor boat, while the USN is risking a high-tech destroyer. The LCS helps address this imbalance by being expendable.

For more about Will, visit His novel, 'A Line Through the Desert' can be purchased here.

Eagle Over the Western Pacific

Those thinking the United States is retreating from the western Pacific are mistaken.

Apra Harbor, in Guam, is currently the home port of three US Navy Los Angeles Class attack submarines. The deep water port is also being expanded to accommodate cruisers and aircraft carriers. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently stationed in Okinawa, will be relocated to Guam. Anderson AFB is also undergoing changes, as the 36th Air Defense Wing was re designated the 36th Wing (a higher formation), signalling a possible expansion.

Guam has the advantage of being US territory, therefore avoiding some of the messy situations that sometimes arise when the US has to seek a foreign government's permission to launch air strikes from its territory (like Libya in 1986).
Forces in Guam can easily sortie to trouble spots such as the Taiwan (where three Los Angeles subs can be a potent deterrent) or North Korea. Guam is also less vulnerable than Okinawa.
For more about Will, visit His novel, 'A Line Through the Desert' can be purchased here.