Breedlove Honors Veterans at D-Day Commemoration
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
CARENTAN, France, June 5, 2014 The NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe joined the residents of this town here yesterday to honor World War II veterans and pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the D-Day landings.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, thanks veterans, allied troops and citizens of Carentan, France, for helping commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day operations, June 4, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, also commander of U.S. European Command, participated in several events commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day operations conducted by allied forces during World War II from June 5 to June 6, 1944.
Speaking during an evening dinner with Carentan Mayor Jean-Pierre, allied troops, World War II veterans and local residents, Breedlove expressed his gratitude in learning more about D-Day.
“I am proud and humbled to be here with you as we honor the fallen, praise the action of our heroes from the greatest generation, and renew our commitment to our transatlantic bond,” he said. “We are here because of each other.”
Breedlove added, “It’s been a true joy to have met and interacted with all of you throughout the day, especially with our veterans and their families.”
The general joined city officials and allied leaders in honoring the deeds of those who fought during World War II with wreath-layings, meet and greets with veterans, families and others, and by marching in a combined military parade.
Breedlove said he’d thought he “knew what D-Day was all about,” before he arrived in Carentan.
“I had read about the grand sense of mission shared by all those that were involved,” the general said. “How they knew they were in the fight for the common survival of our values. And now each person was part of something bigger that would ultimately cast off tyranny and spread freedom throughout Europe.
“Like many,” he continued, “in my mind I tried to simplify what happened in this region in broad terms. And like many, I also made the mistake of looking at the Battle of Normandy, because I knew what the outcome was.”
Breedlove said he never thought about how close allied forces were to being “hurled back into the sea,” and he didn’t appreciate the personal risk that every service member took.
“I never considered the likelihood of another outcome,” he said. “I didn’t fully understand the camaraderie by those who suffered together. Today, I realized that victory [on D-Day] was not guaranteed.”
It was the extreme efforts of brave individuals doing their duty which allowed allies to gain a foothold on the beaches, and to eventually liberate Europe, he said.
Walking through the streets of Carentan, Breedlove said he “finally got it” after seeing landmarks and participating in an event to honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Army Lt. Col. Robert G. Cole.
“These people fought so hard because of their sense of duty, and because they didn’t want to let down their buddy in the next foxhole,” he said. “Their collective confidence allowed them to move forward when every survival instinct told them to run away.”
The troops that fought on D-Day did so “not because of some grand sense of mission” to free Europe from Hitler’s grasp, Breedlove said.
Each service member fought on D-Day “because his sergeant told him to do it,” Breedlove said. “It was his buddy that expected him to do it, and he knew that it was his [responsibility].”
The general said his visit here gave him added insight into the human scope of the D-Day landings.
“It was their actions on D-Day that were great, and deserving of celebration,” Breedlove said. “I thank you for sharing your experiences with me. It has been a true honor and you have taught me a lot.”
Carentan is “a place of legend” and those who fought here “took part in the greatest endeavor ever taken in the name of liberty,” Breedlove said.
“Here you faced an enemy who had received Hitler’s personal order to hold Carentan until the last man,” he said. “Through their stubborn defense [they] earned the nickname, ‘The Lions of Carentan.’
“Here many men made the ultimate sacrifice in the prime of their youth,” Breedlove continued. “From the blood spilled on this ground, a proud legacy has grown.”
Allied troops that fought on D-Day helped to defeat Hitler’s tyranny.
“We honor their memory by recognizing how far we have come as a community,” Breedlove said, “and by continuing to move forward together striving for a Europe whole, free and at peace.”
The general noted that he and the North Atlantic Council had concluded two days of discussion at NATO headquarters on how to adapt NATO in view of Europe’s evolving security environment.
Breedlove said he kept thinking about D-Day and quoted former supreme allied commander Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, saying: “‘This world of ours must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.’”
Breedlove said he shares Eisenhower’s desire for a confederation of mutual trust and respect.
“Those who fought here were willing to give their lives for that world,” Breedlove said. “The most amazing outcome of the post-World War II era is the proud confederation that is today’s NATO alliance. Enemies on these battlefields 70 years ago are now staunch allies.”
These allies formed bonds that were born during D-Day, he said, and that alliance is stronger than ever.
Breedlove noted it is important to “recognize and celebrate the courage of those who served 70 years ago,” and support service members today as they continue to defend the values “enshrined” here in Carentan.
“We cannot take our progress for granted,” he said. “We must remember that peace remains forever fragile.”
Recent world events, Breedlove said, have shown the concept of armed conflict in Europe remains possible.
“We must be ready, we must be responsive and we must be resolved to our mutual defense commitments,” he said.
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)