'Forgotten D-Day' vets receive highest French medal
August 13, 2010
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 13, 2010) -- Veterans of the Allied invasion of southern France, sometimes called the "forgotten D-Day," were honored Aug. 10 during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
It was members of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division, as well as veterans from 7th Army, XII Tactical Air Command, the 8th Fleet, and representatives from countries that participated in the 90,000-troop amphibious landing -- France, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland and Greece -- who gathered during the 66th anniversary of Operation Dragoon to honor those who participated in the often overlooked operation.
Retelling the story of Operation Dragoon and drawing parallels to present-day alliances, guest speaker Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe, told those in attendance the operation had been a superb example of successful allied interoperability.
"By any measure, even today, Operation Dragoon was an overwhelming success," the general said. "The 7th Army defeated Hitler's 9th Army, captured over 100,000 prisoners, liberated two-thirds of France and linked up with the Normandy Forces, all within 30 days."
The general remarked that, despite the heroism of the Soldiers involved, the impact of their actions on the war effort and the complexity of the operation, the story of Operation Dragoon remains relatively unknown.
"It was a truly all-remarkable accomplishment, and all the more remarkable in that most people, especially most Americans, know nothing of this campaign, because its brave Soldiers were all overshadowed by the Normandy landings," Ham said.
After Ham's address, five Dragoon veterans, including Lloyd Ramsey, Douglas Dillard, Sherman Pratt, James Welsh and Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn Ross, were presented with the French Legion of Honor. It was Francois Rivasseau, deputy French ambassador to the U.S., who presented them with France's highest decoration.
Following the ceremony, wreaths were placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns and at the 3rd Infantry Division Monument. Additionally, a remembrance was held at the grave of Audie Murphy. Murphy, the most decorated Soldier of World War II, received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during Operation Dragoon.
The actions of Soldiers during Operation Dragoon are often overshadowed by those that occurred two months earlier, June 6, 1944, at Normandy. That operation, "Operation Overlord," is also known as "D-Day."
Operation Dragoon involved Allied forces invading southern France along the Riviera. The operation opened a second allied front at the ports of Marseilles and Toulon. Opening those ports up to the Allies was essential to providing new supply lines into France, since supply channels from invasion ports in northern France were overextended.
The 7th Army, under Gen. Alexander "Sandy" Patch, consisted of VI Corps (made up of the 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions, along with the 1st Allied Airborne Task Force), the 1st Special Service Force (combined U.S.-Canadian unit) and seven French Army B divisions under Gen. Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. The Army Air Corps' XII Tactical Air Command and the Mediterranean Allied Air Force, as well as the U.S. Navy's 8th Fleet and the Western Naval Task Force completed the forces that eventually linked up with Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army.