By Lt. Col. Jefferson Wolfe
7th Mission Support Command Public Affairs

DRAGUIGNAN, France - The Rhone American Cemetery contains the final resting place of 860 American Soldiers and Marines helped give the Allies a Southern axis of advance during World War II.

French and American citizens and leaders from the Draguignan community and around Europe came to the cemetery May 29 for a Memorial Day ceremony honoring those who are interred in the cemetery.

The cemetery was established August 19, 1944 after the Seventh Army's surprise landing in southern France. It sits on 12.5 acres with headstones arranged in straight lines, divided into four plots and grouped around an oval pool.

"So, please, as we remember these 860 brave Soldiers buried on this hallowed ground, the names of the 294 missing, and the 60 unknown Soldiers, let us not forget all Soldiers who responded to their nations' calls for service and gave the most priceless possession they had - their lives," said Brig. Gen. Arlan DeBlieck, the commanding general of the 7th Mission Support Command and the deputy commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, who was one of the speakers during the ceremony. "Memorial Day is about keeping their memories alive. We cannot help but feel awed by the enormity of sacrifices by these men and women."

Those interred in the cemetery were part of the U.S. Seventh Army, in particular the 45th Infantry, 36th Infantry and 3rd Infantry divisions, according to information from the cemetery. They fought principally in Operation Dragoon, the code name for the Aug. 15, 1944 landings on the southern coast of France and the advance northward.

Many of the same ships and landing craft used during the Normandy assault were used again for Dragoon.

In addition to the American, British and Canadian Soldiers, 230,000 French soldiers participated. It was the largest French military action since 1940.

In four weeks, Operation Dragoon enabled Allied forces to liberate most of southern France, while inflicting heavy casualties on the German forces and forcing their retreat.

The operation opened up a second Allied axis of advance with the opening of the port facilities at Marseille. By mid-October, the southern route would become a significant source of supplies.

"What is more important is that American and French Soldiers fought together as allies for the third time in our histories," DeBlieck said. "This is important in history because it shows our shared conviction to live free as a people. It is also important today because we again stand as allies in our determination to secure, defend and keep Europe free from aggression."