By James E. BrooksMay 5, 2017
OBERSALZBERG, Germany (May 5, 2017) - A 48-star flag was raised in the Bavarian mist this morning in Obersalzberg, Germany where a small crowd gathered to recall a similar ceremony 72 years ago marking what was the end of World War II.
Once a spatial retreat to Adolph Hitler and other Nazi leaders during the rise of the Third Reich, the southern Bavarian city of Obersalzberg became an allied objective in the early spring of 1945. As the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and the Russians began to encircle Berlin, it was widely believed Hitler and his leading Nazi officers would slip away and reassemble in this area to fight the war indefinitely from atop the Bavarian Alps.
"Most of the fighting in Europe was over when the decision was made to seize the famous 'alpine redoubt' to signal the ultimate defeat of the Nazi regime. The Russians occupied Berlin and already had a famous picture taken over the Reichstag. Hitler was reported to have killed himself. The Americans and the free French forces under General LeClerc both wanted to be the first to liberate Obersalzberg. The 3rd Infantry Division arrived in the area first, having raced down the autobahn between Munich and Salzburg. The French forces arrived almost simultaneously from the east, having been blocked by the American on the most direct route," said George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies Director Army Lt. Gen. (ret.) Keith Dayton. "The scene was pretty chaotic but the Americans reestablished control quickly and determined a flag raising ceremony would be appropriate along the lines of Iwo Jima in the Pacific earlier in the year and perhaps to match what the Soviets did in Berlin."
WORLD WAR II VETERANS DISAPPEARING
World War II veterans are dying in increasing numbers. The Veterans Administration estimates there are nearly 500 veterans on average dying each day and less than 800,000 World War II veterans still alive to mark commemorations like this one. Army Col. (ret.) Douglas Dillard, a spry 91-year old was the lone World War II veteran. Dillard was 20 years old when he fought with the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion at the Battle of the Bulge.
"When you're 17 or 18 years old, you think you can beat the world. We were all scared in combat. But you'd think 'it's the next guy that's going to get hit,' not you," Dillard recalled.
His unit entered the battle with more than 800 officers and men. When it was over, Dillard was one of only 96 enlisted men alive. Dillard remained in the Army after the war, making it a career. He received a direct commission and would see more combat action in Korea and Vietnam.
CONTINUING THE MILITARY LEGACY
"I think it's great we have with us today a decorated US veteran of World War II and young soldiers from the Bundeswehr here together at this ceremony. This event symbolizes not only the bridge across the Atlantic but a bridge across generations in the defense of freedom. Today Germany and the United States share a bond of friendship and respect that I wish the generation who fought and died here 72 years ago could marvel at now," Dayton said.
"I have a lot of fond memories living in Germany in wartime and peace time. When I was assigned here in the 1950s, my family and I used to come to Berchtesgaden quite a bit. But the area has changed so much and I think it's great that we can have a ceremony like this today in Germany," said Dillard.
REMEMBERING ISN'T ALWAYS ENOUGH
Family members and veteran organizations have taken up the charge of the fading generation of World War II veterans to keep alive the memory of what happened here in Obersalzberg and other battlefields. But in remembering, historic details are just as important.
Husband and wife team, Army veterans Lt. Col (ret.) Timothy Stoy and Capt. (ret.) Monika Stoy lead the Society of the Third Infantry Division's European outpost. They organized the first ceremony here in 2008.
"Stephen Ambrose's book and television mini-series like 'Band of Brothers' were great but Steven Ambrose based his Obersalzberg account from interviews of veterans who were here. He did an excellent job sharing the story but it lacked historical data. Many people learn history through TV shows like 'Band of Brothers.' Many Third Infantry veterans who were here were upset by the portrayal of Obersalzberg because the mini-series credited the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment for getting here first. They asked us to do something to fix this. So ten years ago, we asked the German government if we could place a plaque. They said "yes" and in a little over a month, we had our first ceremony," said Monika Stoy.
The plaque was the first one erected to recognize an American unit for its WWII accomplishments in Germany. Located behind the Kempinski Hotel, it's now a permanent reminder as to who won the race to Obersalzberg.
MILITARY PRESENCE BUILT FRIENDSHIP AND TRUST
Following World War II, the U.S. Army remained in the Obersalzberg area. Until 1995, the Armed Forces had a hotel, golf course and other recreational facilities here for service members, their families and retirees to enjoy. But those facilities were returned to the Bavarian government and what remained were trust and friendship.
U.S. Consulate General Munich's Consul for Political and Economic Affairs Scott Woodard said this was what was important that happened here after the war.
"Wherever I go in Bavaria, I hear stories about the personal friendships between Bavarians and Americans, largely born out of the presence of military installations in communities throughout this region. The Third Infantry Division played and continues to play a key role in all of this," said Woodard.
CONNECTION TO ARMY SERVICE
Staff Sgt. Natasha Love, 37, from Hampton, Va., never participated in a World War II commemoration ceremony like this before. But she is well aware of the importance of understanding the history of the Army.
"My first assignment was with First Infantry Division or 'The Big Red One' which itself has a big World War II history. I think being at an event like this is an honor. It's a privilege to have the opportunity to speak with Col. Dillard and share his experience that shaped history," said Love. "I think it's so easy to take our Army service for granted and this ceremony really helped put meaning into what I'm doing today.