D-Day 73 commemoration: “We will never forget our heroes”

SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France — “There are moments in a nation’s history when its future course is decided by a chosen few who walked bravely into the valley of the shadow of death,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO) and the commander of U.S. European Command. “In such moments, young men and women pledge their lives so that their nation can live.”

 This year marks the 73rd Anniversary of the D-Day landings and in remembrance of that day, U.S. Army paratroopers, from 173rd Airborne Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 82nd Airborne Division, foreign military, local French nationals, family and friends participated in a wreath-laying ceremony June 4, 2017, at the Iron Mike Memorial site here.

During the Battle of La Fière Bridgehead June 6-9, 1944, approximately 254 were killed and 525 were wounded during the liberation of Normandy.

Each year countless visitors come to commemorate the Iron Mike Memorial statue. The statue named 'Iron Mike' was erected to pay tribute to the numerous American paratroopers and infantry men who lost their lives in this area of France. 

“The Battle of La Fiere was the most significant operation of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II,” Scaparrotti said. “It was also the costliest small-unit actions in the history of the U.S. Army.” 

This 500-yard stretch of causeway transformed a unit, defined its character and inspired an Army, said Scaparrotti. 

The small bridge over the Merderet River was a key point for the Germans to take so that they could break up the American landing at Utah Beach, while at the same time being key to the Americans so that they could expand their beachhead in Normandy. Even though the Americans were lightly armed, the Germans were never able to cross the bridge.

“Several hundred airborne warriors seized a causeway that helped free a continent and end a war,” said Scaparrotti. 

The National Commander of the American Legion, Charles Schmidt, noted that each of the attendees and participants who gathered here today stand in the same place as those who fought and died for the liberation of Normandy during World War II.

“Our promise is that no matter how many years pass the world will never forget their sacrifices,” Schmidt said. “We as a nation are committed to this memory.”