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

DRAGUIGNAN, France - The commanding general of the 7th Mission Support Command spoke at the Rhone American Cemetery about the contributions of the soldiers who took part in Operation Dragoon in World War II.

French and American citizens and leaders from the Draguignan community and around Europe came to the cemetery May 28 for a Memorial Day ceremony honoring those who are interred in the cemetery.

For the event, Ainsworth was joined by Brig. Gen. Pierre Gillet, Commander of the Garnison of Draguignan; Seth Snyder, Deputy U.S. Consul at Marseille; Sub Prefet Andre Carava; Olivier Audibert-Troin, French Deputy; Senator Pierre-Yves Collombat; and Richard Strambio, Mayor of the City of Draguignan.

"With Operation Dragoon, these Soldiers saw to it that the fall of the Third Reich began in earnest," Ainsworth said. "Today, Memorial Day, is about remembering Soldiers - those interred here and many others - and what they sacrificed."

Operation Dragoon was the code name of the Aug. 15, 1944 landings on the southern coast of France which opened up a southern axis of advance for Allied troops to help hasten the end of the war.

"This campaign through southern France provided crucial support to the main Allied thrust against Germany, and remains one of the most successful-and often overlooked-operations of World War II," Ainsworth said. "Patch's Seventh Army had cleared south and central France in half the time expected and taken some 100,000 prisoners with only about 13,000 total casualties as of mid-September."

In a time span of only four weeks, the operation enabled Allied forces to liberate most of southern France, while also inflicting heavy casualties on the German forces and forcing their retreat, he said.

The Rhone American Cemetery is the final resting place of 860 Americans who were killed in action. The retaining wall of the cemetery's terrace lists the names of 294 American Soldiers who are missing in action. There are 60 more Americans buried here whose names are not known.

The Soldiers were part of the Seventh Army, in particular the 45th, 36th, and 3rd Infantry Divisions.

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.