Three times during the past 31 years, I had to privilege to visit Normandy, France. The first time was when moving from Heidelburg to Ft Leavenworth, KS in 1988. The second visit was the 50th anniversary in June 1994. Finally, my wife Nancy and I re-visited Normandy over Memorial Day weekend this year.
During the 50th anniversary, I was commander of the 307th Engineer Battalion, the 82d Airborne Division’s direct support engineer battalion. The 50th was a big deal for several reasons, but the main ones were that many world leaders, including President and Mrs. Clinton, were present and because so many veterans from all nations involved in the 6 June 1944 operation were still alive. This drove a large number of commemoration activities across the Normandy coast. The people of Normandy were great hosts
The 82d Airborne Division contingent involved more than 100 jumpers, the division’s senior leadership (battalion and brigade commanders and Command Sergeants Major and NCO led teams to support ceremonies. We flew to England from Ft Bragg in early June 1994 and then jumped into a Normandy field (drop zone) near St. Mere Eglise. Afterwards we participated in a parade through St. Mere Eglise, where we were housed in a school gymnasium for our week’s stay.
Included at right is a copy of my jump log (note number 96, Normandy, FR, 5 Jun 1994) and a copy of our post-jump formation. I am in the background.
In addition to supporting many ceremonies that week, we were also present for the main commemoration at the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach where the Clintons and other world leaders led the ceremonies. Nearly 9000 Americans, most from the Normandy campaign, are buried there in a beautiful site well-maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. It is always moving to spend time at this cemetery and to think about what we and our allies endured in June and July 1944 to assault the beaches and breakout on the road to Paris’ and France’s liberation.
The senior leaders also participated in a battlefield study of the 82d’s operations in support of the Normandy Campaign that was interesting and professionally done. I made a point to my infantry brethren that nearly one in four members of the assault waves on Normandy (from the air and by sea) was an engineer. That is how important having engineer support was to clear obstacles and build lanes and roads inland to support seizing the beaches and other key objectives.
This past Memorial Day weekend, just before the 75th anniversary, Nancy and I returned to Normandy. We had a wonderful tour sponsored by the Pulaski Barracks, Kaiserslautern Morale, Welfare, and Recreation and was led by a Normandy Frenchman, Dr Jean-Pierre Benamou, who runs the Normandy Academy which does tours, prepares publications, and restores WWII vintage equipment.
The last photo is me standing next to a restored two and a half ton truck (deuce and a half) that, coincidentally, has the bumper number 82d Abn 307E, my old outfit’s bumper number. Nancy and I enjoyed riding around our tour in the back of that truck!
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Normandy it is a beautiful part of France whose people are very patriotic and supportive of visitors of allied nations, especially Americans. I highly recommend a visit to the cemetery. That really drives home the sacrifices the greatest generation made to secure our liberty during a very dark time in history.
Maj. Gen. (Ret) Merdith W. B. “Bo” Temple, PE, PMP Senior Advisor
A member of the Dawson team since 2013, Bo was formerly Acting Chief of Engineers and Acting Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 2011 to 2012.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.