By Sgt. 1st Class Abram PinningtonJune 6, 2014
NORMANDY, France - Buses full of Soldiers navigated the narrow French streets. As they passed through villages, they found the roadways packed with people waving American flags. When they unloaded at each destination, they were greeted with cheers, hugs and photograph requests.
The Soldiers got a hero's welcome as they helped commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing here.
More than 20 Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, alongside members of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the 10th Special Forces Group, the 29th Infantry Division, British forces and French and German army were asked to provide supporting during ceremonies honoring the troops who stormed the beaches during World War II, seven decades ago.
Atop a hill overlooking Omaha Beach, Soldiers of the 1st Inf. Div. conducted a ceremony yesterday, honoring their fellow "Big Red One" Soldiers.
Patrick Thomines, mayor of the coastal village of Colleville-sur-Mer, spoke during the event about the famed division.
"The 1st Infantry (Division) will always have a home here," Thomines said through a translator. "The sacrifice and loss you made cannot be repaid. It has created a lasting bond that is not bounded by continents and oceans."
The town was a strategic beachhead that bared the brunt of the initial invasion. Much of the town was destroyed during American navel bombardments as the Germans were pushed farther from Omaha Beach.
"The lives of the sons of America allowed us to be free," Thomines said. "You gave us our village back. From my heart, thank you."
The ceremony also featured a "Big Red One" Soldier who approached that beach on June 6, 1944.
"I remember, as I approached the beach looking out from our landing craft, and seeing the Notre-Dame de l'Assomption steeple," retired Command Sgt. Maj. Bill Ryan said. "I thought it was the only pretty thing in front of me."
That was the last memory Ryan recalled before hitting the sand.
Ryan suffered a concussion as his boat was hit by an 88mm mortar, launching the boat on its side and ejecting its passengers. He awoke almost two hours later against an embankment as the battle raged on around him.
"My boat getting hit by that round saved my life," Ryan said. "There is no way I would've survived that landing if the door would've dropped. If you stayed on the boat long enough for it to open, you died."
Ryan would remain on the beach until 10 p.m. before being sent to England for medical treatment. His recount of that morning resonated with many. Tears were streaming from the faces of those in the crowd that surrounded the monument.
As the ceremony concluded, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael A. Grinston, 1st Inf. Div. senior enlisted adviser, and honorary guest, Ryan and Thomines, laid flowers at the base of the monument.
Many in the crowd follow behind them to pay their respects the fallen men of the "Big Red One."