CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti. – U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to Task Force Red Dragon, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, hosted a D-Day commemoration and ruck march June 6 to remember the sacrifices of Allied forces during the storming of the Normandy beachhead during World War II.
Task Force Red Dragon is made up primarily of the 116th Infantry Regiment, which has a longstanding and honored place in U.S. military history, fighting in every major war since the American Revolution. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, those same men comprised the spearhead of the 29th Infantry Division’s force that stormed Omaha Beach. The 116th Infantry Regiment accounted for 79 percent of the 29th Division’s casualties and approximately one-fifth of all American casualties that day.
More than 1,000 members of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, were killed, wounded or missing in action during the assault on Omaha Beach. But their courage and bravery helped create a foothold that allowed follow-on forces to continue the assault and set the stage for Allied victory in Europe.
This year marks the 78th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. During the commemoration ceremony, Maj. Nick Roland, executive officer for Task Force Red Dragon, gave a brief history of the 116th’s role in the D-Day landings. Lt. Col. Jim Tierney, Task Force Red Dragon commander, talked about the importance of remembering the historic date and its significance to the Virginia Army National Guardsmen.
“They hailed from the same locations across Virginia and Maryland,” he said. “Roanoke, Bedford, Christiansburg, Charlottesville and Lynchburg. They trained at some of the same locations that we trained, during our pre-deployment train-up.”
French resistance fighters conducted more than 1,000 acts of sabotage June 5-6 and made countless intelligence reports that helped shape the success of the allied invasion of Normandy, Tierney said.
“Operation Overlord is the staunchest of reminders that joint and allied warfare, though challenging and complex, is critical to achieving our shared objectives,” Tierney said. “Words spoken here today will never accurately reflect the sacrifices and heroic actions conducted by those brave Soldiers who fought on ‘Bloody Omaha.’ I ask each of you to reflect on those who fought through hell on June 6, 1944, and commit to remembering their sacrifices today and every day.”
The audience highlighted the significance of partnerships, such as the Allied forces fighting alongside each other on D-Day and the partnerships that have blossomed since the end of World War II. French and Japanese forces in Djibouti attended the ceremony, along with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from units throughout Camp Lemonnier.
“It’s fitting to see representatives from all services and our allies here today in Africa,” Tierney said. “We are honored and humbled by your presence.”
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Ashwell and Spc. Nathan Molicki, both serving with 1-116th HHC, Task Force Red Dragon, and Lt. Col. Wilbur Oles, commanding officer of Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 163, U.S. Marine Corps, had family members who served on D-Day and were recognized during the ceremony.
Ashwell, whose great uncle died serving in D Company 1-116th on Omaha Beach, played Taps after a moment of silence.
“For the last eight years, I have played Taps on June 6th to honor not only my great uncle but all the men that he served with,” Ashwell said. “... This moment with the Task Force and the 116th is extremely meaningful to me. I believe that this event is the best way that we can honor their memory while deployed to Africa.”
After the ceremony, attendees donned their rucksacks and walked 3.3 miles.
Task Force Red Dragon has more than 1,000 Virginia, Kentucky and Tennesse National Guard Soldiers stationed on Camp Lemonnier and forward-deployed outstations throughout East Africa.