Ceremony honors forgotten vets of 'Operation Dragoon'
August 13, 2009
FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, Aug. 13, 2009) -- Thirty World War II veterans from across the country traveled to Arlington National Cemetery Aug. 5, for the first formal U.S. ceremony honoring veterans who participated in Operation Dragoon, the allied invasion of Southern France in August of 1944.
Scholars and historians often refer to Operation Dragoon as the forgotten D-day.
Dr. Jeffrey Clarke, director of the Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., said, "Operation Dragoon took place both geographically and chronologically between two much larger allied efforts in northern France and Italy - both its conduct and its contributions have been largely ignored."
Monica Stoy, retired Army captain, military sociologist and president of Operation Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, and her husband, Lt. Col. Tim Stoy, organized events for the 65th Anniversary of Operation Dragoon. Stoy said she and her husband worked hard to have as many veterans who fought in Southern France in attendance as they could find, as well as their family members and friends.
"These veterans have gone unrecognized for 64 years, and we really want to correct that in this 65th anniversary year," Monica Stoy said. "Sadly, so very few Americans know of the Aug. 15, 1944, landing in Southern France."
Boy Scouts from across the country attended the event to help veterans traveling to and from the ceremony. The scouts assisted with everything from offering directions to making sure the veterans had enough water, juice or sodas to drink.
"I have never been to a ceremony like this in my life, and I'm so very proud and honored to be here to serve the veterans," said Adam Summers, a scout attending the event.
A number of Soldiers from the Fort Myer Military Community volunteered to help with the Operation Dragoon ceremonies, from escorting the veterans into the Memorial Amphitheater to having lunch with them at the Fort Myer Officers' Club.
An event of this magnitude was no small feat for its organizers.
"As we organized this ceremony we contacted more than 2,000 veterans - the response was tremendous," Stoy said.
"Every veteran we spoke to expressed sincere gratitude for this effort to recognize Operation Dragoon and the fight in Southern France," she said.
"Many told me that they would truly love to be here today, but that it is just too late, they are too old and frail to travel so far anymore, such as Walter Tatko of 3rd Infantry Division, Mechanized, and Joseph Cicchinelli. So we are especially blessed that these veterans are here with us - from Canada, from California, Michigan, Kansas, Louisiana, ages 86 to 92," Stoy said.
Throughout the ceremony retirees, guests and speakers were heard shouting out, "Rock of the Marne," back and forth to one other - a nickname given to 3rd ID because of the stance the division took while protecting Paris on the banks of the Marne River during World War I.
The ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was followed by wreath layings at the Tomb of the Unknowns and at the 3rd ID monument, and a remembrance at the grave of Sgt. Audie Murphy, the most highly decorated U.S. Soldier of World War II.
The ceremony concluded with a luncheon and an historical roundtable discussion at the Fort Myer Officers' Club. This time was also used for closing remarks from veterans, friends and family members attending the event.
"I was in with the landing in France in 1944," said Floyd Kruszka, a retired sergeant and veteran of the 3rd Infantry Division, 9th Field Artillery Regiment.
"I am honored and grateful to be here today. We helped put an end to World War II, and I wish my fellow Soldiers who have passed could be here today. But I know they're watching from up above," Kruszka said.
The U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute commendation program honored veterans of Operation Dragoon by giving each veteran a certificate of appreciation and a commendation letter signed by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr.
(Christina Mennella writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)