Breedlove Reflects on D-Day Commemorative Events
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
DEAUVILLE, France, June 10, 2014 After taking part in numerous events last week commemorating the 70th anniversary of the allied D-Day landing that turned the tide of World War II, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe shared his impressions in an interview with American Forces Press Service.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, right, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, signs the jacket of a World War II veteran at the re-enactment of the airborne jump into St. Mere-Eglise, France, June 8, 2014. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who also commands U.S. European Command, spoke passionately about honoring the veterans of World War II.
The general said the ceremony at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, during which President Barack Obama gave a poignant speech, was “magnificent.”
“I think the president had some very good words,” Breedlove said. “I think that he connected the seriousness of the situation to the personal stories of the veterans. Also what I like is that he connected forward to the veterans of our current wars. Their sacrifices are pretty important, too. They have made a big impact in this world.”
Breedlove noted the beautiful weather that accompanied the commemoration events and said he was impressed by the huge turnout, especially by veterans of the landing, whose numbers are dwindling with the passage of time.
“These veterans may not make the 80th celebration,” he said. “It was incredibly important for them to see how we, and the French people, feel about them.”
Breedlove said he spoke with nearly 70 veterans, and that he told them, “If you hadn’t come first, we wouldn’t be here today.”
In his remarks at the anniversary commemoration, Obama said, “And when the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory -- we helped Europe rebuild.” Breedlove said that vision helped Europe become what it is today.
“The Marshall Plan remains the reason why we see this vibrant Europe, and why we stayed here in large numbers,” the general said. “When I first came to serve in Europe -- when I served with 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division -- there were over 400,000 soldiers here, not counting all of the air wings, fighters and everything else in Europe. Our commitment to this continent has never changed, and the president’s absolutely correct.”
The general said he attended a variety of ceremonies, starting in Carentan, France.
“The outpouring of the French people there -- I’ve never seen so many American flags,” Breedlove said. “The ceremony [was] amazing -- the young children placing the flowers at the wreath, the older children reading poems about courage, sacrifice and freedom -- just amazing.
“These nations remember,” he continued. “These people, specifically, they remember, and they hand it down to younger generations.”
Breedlove said he was impressed by a 93-year-old veteran who talked to him and walked in the parade following one ceremony, which was “a little over a kilometer into town.”
“He wasn’t getting on any bus,” the general said. “He marched right beside me. But the funny part was when we started marching, he didn’t have any time to talk to the four-star general. He was concentrating on those paratroopers right in front of him. He was in perfect cadence. His fingers were curled. His marching stance was perfect. The pride in this man -- it’s just infectious.”
The general also reflected on a ceremony in Picauville, France.
“Their children came and released hundreds of balloons with the names of American soldiers on them that died there around their town,” Breedlove said. They also specifically honored families of the fallen who came, he said.
A young lady, Bruce Anne (Brucie) Parcell Shook, was there, he said, noting she was 1 year old when they pinned her father’s posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross on her dress.
“Picauville remembers her father, who was a fighter pilot, fighting over this town,” Breedlove said. “They remember the crews and every soldier in the back of two C-47s that were shot down by that town. Those names are on all those balloons, and they unveiled a second monument. They have a beautiful monument already there. Fabulous.”
The second monument had the name of every airman and soldier who died there, Breedlove said.
“These people remember, and it’s touching,” he said. “It’s just amazing. Remembering the human endeavor is very important.”
The commemorative events had been performed extremely well, the general said.
“Men and women have to stand up or evil and tyranny will reign,” Breedlove said. “And that’s as important today, as you see what’s happening in Europe and other places around the world, as it ever was. But … we won’t have these veterans much longer. We need them to absolutely understand -- and I think they do -- just how much they gave [and] how important it was.”
Breedlove said his father served in the Navy during World War II as a machinist mate, and that like most of the veterans, he never discussed his experiences.
“My father came from a big family, and all his brothers served in the Navy,” he said. “My father was there, but he never talked about it, and the few times I asked about his service, what he would tell me over and over again is, ‘I was a machinist mate, and I served in the bowels of a destroyer the whole war, because I could make the motor run.’”
He was very good at that, Breedlove said, describing his father as “a blue collar worker who fixed stuff.”
“He told me, ‘I could have been in Hawaii, or San Diego or D-Day,’” Breedlove recalled. ‘I was just in the bowels of that ship making the motor run.’ And I think that’s kind of typical of a lot of these guys.
“As I talk to the kids of many of these veterans that are here -- and some of them are here for the very first time -- they’ve never come before, because they don’t want the recognition,” Breedlove continued. “You have to pry it out of them sometimes, because they’re not looking for a lot of glory.”
The general also lauded the Task Force Normandy team working behind the scenes and standing in ceremonies to bring the commemoration to life.
“They’ve done magnificently,” Breedlove said. “When this first started, there were thousands and thousands who wanted to come here and do this, … so we had to narrow down a little bit.
“It’s a small, resilient, capable, enthusiastic team, and they have done absolutely superior [work],” he continued. “Our part of it -- soldiers being where they are supposed to be, U.S. forces representing our nation -- it’s gone magnificently. Thank you.”
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. on Twitter: @marshallAFPS