1st Infantry Division honors D-Day veterans
June 8, 2009
On June 6, 1944, Allied forces under Gen. Dwight Eisenhower assaulted the coast of Normandy with 1st Infantry Division units leading the way on Omaha Beach.
Sixty five years later, the 1st Inf. Div. remembered that pivotal moment in history, and the connection between "Ike" and the "Big Red One," by marching in a parade through Eisenhower's hometown of Abilene, Kan., on the anniversary of D-Day.
Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Inf. Div., said the day was all about remembering history.
"We are connecting the past to the present," Brooks said. "There are Soldiers serving today in harm's way just as there were Soldiers serving on that fateful day in 1944."
Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Champagne, senior noncommissioned officer of the 1st Inf. Div., added that for the individual Soldiers marching in the parade, it's just one more reminder of their unit's esteemed legacy.
"They're reminded every day of their heritage and how proud it is to be a part of the Big Red One," Champagne said.
When the parade reached its end at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, attendees were treated to a show by the Salina Symphony, who played patriotic songs and war tunes from the World War II era, followed by a roundtable discussion about D-Day, moderated by the 1st Infantry Division museum's historian and featuring accomplished veterans of World War II.
For veterans in attendance, like Dick Wallman, a World War II veteran who served in the European and Pacific theaters, the day was for remembering friends lost.
"It's kind of hard to explain," Wallman said. "I remember my buddies who were killed and buddies who were taken by Father Time; it's a day to remember them."
Brooks said helping his Soldiers remember the "Greatest Generation" can help them overcome obstacles modern-day troops face.
"We remind our Soldiers the history they are a part of and the legacy they are fulfilling," Brooks said. "When we highlight events like this, it's their history. We remind them that there were Soldiers once upon a time who also faced tough challenges."
Through the sharing of common challenges, Waller said servicemembers from all eras share more.
"We have a real strong bond, particularly nourished through the American Legion I belong to. We share a lot of experiences," Waller said.
Brooks added Soldiers' experiences then and now are all part of a legacy for the 1st Infantry Division.
"It's a matter of showcasing the Big Red One and its intimate connection and human history as it was with D-Day as well," Brooks said. "We carry on the honors and traditions of those regiments that fought on Omaha Beach.