'Big Red One' Soldiers arrive in France for D-Day commemoration
June 3, 2014
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NORMANDY, France (June 3, 2014) -- A foot taps feverishly. Eyes wonder in every direction. Suddenly, the screech of aircraft tires hitting the ground pierces the roaring calm.
As the aircraft comes to a halt, Soldiers begin gathering their gear and step foot onto foreign soil. Their presence is not for conflict, but to honor those who stepped foot on the same soil 70 years ago.
Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, along with other units within the United States Army, have been asked to support the commemorative ceremonies for the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France.
This once-in-a-lifetime event created a great amount of pride for those who are participating.
"I am honored to be here," said Pfc. Pedro Beltran, a Soldier of the 1st Infantry Division's Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard. "After everything I have learned about World War II, I cannot wait to see Omaha Beach."
Though touring the area around the famous battleground is on his to-do list, Beltran will do so with more than sightseeing on his mind.
"I'm going to embrace everything we do," Beltran said. "For those who never got to see Normandy -- the ones who are not here with us today."
Beltran's brother never had the opportunity to visit Normandy. His brother was wounded in Afghanistan, in 2012. After a near recovery from his wounds, he passed away due to complications a year later.
"He was going to be a history teacher," Beltran said. "He loved learning about the war, the great men who were in it. He wanted to teach that to kids."
Beltran is not the only one with something to cross off the to-do list. A former division Soldier is hoping to fulfill priorities in addition to participating in ceremonies, sightseeing and paying his respects.
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Weathers, an infantry platoon sergeant 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, who has served and deployed with the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., has direct family ties to the sands of Normandy.
"Both my grandfathers were in Normandy," Weathers said. "My maternal grandfather was an engineer who landed at Utah Beach, on 6 June. My paternal grandfather was with the 1st Infantry Division, landed on Omaha Beach, 12 June, and went on to fight at Cherbourg."
The same engineer unit his grandfather served in erected a monument on top of a German pillbox they over took during D-Day.
"After the war ended in 1945, my grandfather went back and help build the monument," Weathers said. "I want to see that monument and have my picture taken next to it."
However, a photograph isn't the only task Weathers has set out to achieve.
"I have copies of photographs from my grandfather with me," Weathers said. "One of them is of him and three of his friends. All three of his friends were killed in action in France.
"I want to go down to Utah Beach and bury the picture in the sand as a way to honor them and their sacrifice."
As the ceremonies draw near, Soldiers -- both old and new -- are beginning to feel the historic significance of their presence. D-Day clearly isn't just about one day, but a moment in time that has affected so many of all ages and generations.
To mark the 70th anniversary of one of the most daring and pivotal offensives in military history, the 1st Infantry Division published "Reflections: Big Red One veterans, families bring stories of World War II to life," a special edition of Duty First! magazine that honors the heroes of D-Day and World War II.
Featuring stories about "Big Red One" Medal of Honor recipients, Buffalo Soldiers and Junction City natives, the magazine seeks to bring to life the heroism and sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation.
"This generation of service members, many who gave the ultimate sacrifice, are part of an unbroken chain of heroes who have served our country with pride and honor," said Lt. Col. Sean Ryan, 1st Inf. Div. public affairs officer. "Words can never express our gratitude to these selfless warriors for allowing us to remain a free society."
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley commanding general, said today's Big Red One Soldiers walk in the footsteps of giants.
"Their contributions to this division, to the Army and to this nation are untold and exude in me -- in all of us who serve here -- a deep sense of pride," Funk said. "I can think of no better way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of our actions on D-Day than by reading and reflecting upon their sacrifices."
The magazine is available now. For more information, go to www.facebook.com/1stInfantryDivison.