By Sgt. Maj. Rodney WilliamsJune 4, 2010
EPINAL, France - Soldiers of the Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) journeyed to France to take part in a memorial ceremony May 30 to honor and remember those who gave their life during the second World War.
The ceremony took place at the Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial in Epinal, France.
"Today we are here to commemorate those who fought and died in World War II to give us the freedom we enjoy today, and especially to honor those who rest in these beautiful grounds," said Frederic Maerkle, a representative from the U.S. Embassy in Paris. "These American graves are from nearly every division that fought for, and won, the liberation of France in World War II."
The Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial is the final resting place for 5,255 American Soldiers, including four Medal of Honor recipients, who fought alongside French allies during campaigns in 1944 and 1945 to help liberate France from the threat of dictatorship.
"It was an historic link up of two great armies, allied armies," said Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, commanding general of the 7th Army, JMTC during his memorial tribute. "It was a milestone that the troops of both armies recognized as placing them one step closer to victory and home. They remained steadfast and determined."
The unity of French and American forces continues today according to Maerkle. While serving as a diplomatic advisor at a U.S. military base in Djibouti from 2005 to 2006, he recalls American officers talking about the French response when the USS Cole was struck by a terrorist boat, killing some sailors and seriously injuring others.
"Immediately after the attack, a U.S. Navy Officer in Yemen telephoned his French counterpart across the channel in Djibouti asking that the French Armed Forces react in support of the U.S. Navy," said Maerkle. "Shortly after the call, the French Army crossed the channel from Djibouti to Yemen and set up a combat field hospital. French Army doctors saved many American Navy sailors' lives."
American and French Soldiers shared the field during the memorial ceremony just as they had during WW II. Shortly before the event began, a platoon of Soldiers from JMTC marched onto the field to take their position followed by a platoon of French Soldiers belonging to the 1st Infantry Battalion (Mechanized), who are based in Epinal. The two platoons stood side by side as the Honor Guard settled in between them with the national flags both nations.
"Today these same two great armies (U.S. and French) that met near here in 1944 are working together to support Coalition efforts in Afghanistan," said Salazar. "Now as then, again two great friends, along with a host of coalition nations serve alongside one another."
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, a day set aside to honor and remember those men and women who lost their life while serving the nation. It is important to reflect on the ultimate sacrifices that are made for freedom.
"What I hope is that everyone will come and commemorate Memorial Day," said Tom Cavaness, the Superintendent for the Epinal American Cemetery. "Hopefully they will walk away with a deeper and newer appreciation of what Memorial Day really stands for which is to remember the sacrifices of the Soldiers who are buried here."
"As we scan the markers that identify our fallen, we remember the words of President John F. Kennedy," added Salazar. "A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors, the men in remembers."