OMAHA BEACH, NORMANDY, France – From his VIP vantage point high above Omaha Beach, looking out across the sand and the English Channel with eyes wide open, Leonard Jindra sees sand, water and a lone modern naval vessel.
Eyes closed is another matter entirely for the 98-year-old D-Day veteran:
“When I close my eyes, I see ships coming over, warships, men running up the beach, falling down, stepping on the mines,” Jindra says. “I see head-shots. Landing craft coming over. Men jumping out of the landing craft. …”
He stops mid-thought, waves off any more words with a quick shake of his right arm, turns his attention resolutely back to the beach and resumes a silent reverie, seemingly oblivious to the chatter of those who’ve come to remember what Army Staff Sgt. Jindra and his comrades did here 75 years ago today.
Jindra is a veteran of the 29th Infantry Division, a National Guard element whose 116th Regiment was in the first wave on D-Day, landing here at Omaha Beach in advance of the entire division, which would eventually push through to Germany itself.
“D-Day required not only our Joint Force working in unison but also the full engagement of our allies,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, in Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary. “Its lessons included that no nation can confront combat operations alone.”
Lengyel book-ended his visit to ceremonies at the Normandy American Cemetery in Coleville-sur-Mer and other locations in the region with stops in Norway to visit Air National Guard members supporting Exercise Arctic Challenge and in North Macedonia to see Army National Guard troops at the Decisive Strike 2019 exercise.
“During those visits I reflected how D-Day is a historic reminder of how the dedicated resolve of allies with a common purpose and shared vision can build partnerships that endure,” Lengyel said.
“You can draw a straight line from D-Day to the partnerships I saw in action in Norway and North Macedonia – the National Guard makes vital contributions to our Joint Force activities around the world to strengthen enduring partnerships and build new ones.”
Those contributions include the State Partnership Program, which pairs the National Guard in the states and territories with foreign countries. Founded in 1993, the program now includes relationships with more than one-third of the world’s countries.
“By nurturing these partnerships, the National Guard is remembering a key lesson of D-Day – that allies and partners are essential to success.”
In two days of ceremonies in Normandy, Lengyel thanked and listened to visiting D-Day veterans at every stop, some of them now over 100-years-old.
“Words cannot convey our debt to these veterans who demonstrated the selfless service and sacrifice that characterizes the Greatest Generation in defense of global peace and security,” he said.
The chief of the National Guard Bureau’s stops included ceremonies in Saint-Lo, one of the communities the 29th ID helped liberate en route to Germany.
Accompanied by Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, senior enlisted advisor, and other Guard leaders, Lengyel also placed a wreath at the National Guard Monument in Vierville-sur-Mer, which sits atop an original bunker at the spot where the 29th ID broke through German defenses on D-Day.
“The National Guard has been part of every major conflict in our nation’s history,” Lengyel said. “We must ensure our individual readiness and our equipment are always ready to answer the call. As a force that augments the Army and the Air Force, our primary mission is to fight America’s wars.
“Our readiness and our lethality, our sustained ability to step up on no-notice when needed,” he continued, “are our living tribute to those men who sacrificed so much 75 years ago for the freedom and quality of life we enjoy today.”