Despite the odds, the Allied troops who invaded France to take back the area from German military forces on June 6, 1944, displayed courage and determination above all else, said Brigadier Gen. Todd Wasmund, Deputy Commanding General for Support.
Civilians, military personnel and even six World War II veterans turned out at Fort Riley Thursday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when more than 160,000 Allied troops invaded Western Europe during World War II, leading to the eventual victory against Nazi Germany.
“D-Day isn’t a story from history books,” Wasmund said. “It isn’t facts and figures, numbers of ships and troops and tanks and jeeps. D-Day was real soldiers, most drafted, many afraid, who nonetheless embarked upon this great crusade, as Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called it, to bring about security in a free world.”
The names of all 316 Big Red One soldiers who died that day were read during the ceremony, which was closed out with a 21-gun salute.
Soldiers of the First Infantry Division stormed Omaha Beach, a section of the Normandy coast in France, on D-Day and were met with “an inconceivable amount” of arms and artillery fire. Bombs intended to weaken German defenses missed their targets, only five of 32 amphibious tanks meant to give fire support made it to the beach, and hundreds of soldiers were cut down by enemy fire. However, the troops rallied together and persisted, ousting German forces off the beach.
“We learned great lessons from the history that we commemorated today,” Wasmund said. “We learn about things like preparation and training, we learn about the courage and determination, we train based on those lessons that we learn, the importance of our alliances and our partnerships around the world. That’s how we train today and we really learned that back in the time of the invasion we commemorated.”
Orris Kelly, a World War II veteran, was presented a retired flag outside the Division headquarters during the ceremony, representing his fellow service members.
Kelly, 93, Manhattan, said he served at the tail-end of World War II, joining the Army in January of 1944. He started out as young cadet before attending officer candidate school at the end of the war and becoming an 18-year-old second lieutenant, overseeing a platoon of soldiers much older than him.
When people look back at this period of history, Kelly said he hoped people remembered the sacrifices of those who served.
“The sacrifices that the young men and women made were just horrendous,” Kelly said. “It’s almost unbelievable. I know at the end of the second world war, a friend of mine went into Dachau (concentration camp) and brought out pictures of the Jewish people that were destroyed by the Germans. That was one of the first things that really hit me hard … and all of those things probably stayed with me more than anything else. The sacrifices the young men made, we wouldn’t have this world today without that.”