NORMANDY, France - Twenty-five Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division represented the Division in multiple events throughout Normandy, France, from June 1-10, 2019.
The events recognized the sacrifices of 4th Inf. Div. Soldiers 75 years ago during the days surrounding D-Day.
Following one event, a ceremony on Utah Beach commemorated the landing of the 4th Inf. Div., the Soldiers were given the opportunity to meet special guests including a veteran of the division and the prime minister of France.
During meet-and-greets, Capt. Andrew McKay, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd IBCT, met 4th Inf. Div. World War II veteran Jack Port, who was interested in speaking to Soldiers from the division and wanted them to join him in laying down a wreath at the division's memorial nearby.
"It was an honor and great privilege to meet Port," said McKay. "It was fun listening to him talk with Soldiers and connect with them when he spoke about combat."
As Port shared memories with the Soldiers, French secret service arrived and started to surround the monument.
The group soon realized Prime Minister of France Edouard Philippe, had a ceremony scheduled to meet French veterans at the same monument and at the same time.
When the Philippe protocol officer noticed the plans of Port and the 4th Inf. Div. Soldiers conflicted with his, rather than kicking them out of the area, he merged the two plans.
Philippe accompanied Port to the memorial to lay down the wreath while the Soldiers and the French veterans stood in mixed formations on either side.
With the help of Command Sgt. Maj. Vincent Simonetti, senior enlisted adviser, 2nd IBCT, 96-year-old Port walked beside Philippe to honor the veterans of the 4th Inf. Div. at the memorial.
When Philippe turned to walk away, he was faced with the 4th Inf. Div. flag and the Soldier who was holding it, Sgt. 1st. Class Justin McBride, 2nd IBCT.
At that moment Philippe approached McBride, and saluted.
"I moved the flag and he was standing in front of me, thanking me for coming," said McBride. "I said, 'thank you sir,' and shook his hand. It was a weird thing to think about having the head of state thank me for coming to his country."
As the week went on, and McBride had the opportunity to represent the division in multiple towns throughout Normandy, who recognized the accomplishments of 4th Inf. Div. veterans who liberated their hometowns.
McBride said that is when he began to understand why the prime minister thanked him.
"A woman spoke with us and not only thanked us for our service, but our grandparents' service as well," said McBride. "She got a little choked up about it. That's really the sentiment we (began) feeling all week."