By Sgt. Patience Okhuofu, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 3rd ID Public AffairsAugust 19, 2010
WASHINGTON, DC. - The 66th Annual Reunion of Operation Dragoon, one of the most successful but controversial campaigns of World War II, was held at the Hyatt Regency in Roslyn, Va., Aug. 8-10.
Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of Southern France that began Aug. 15, 1944. The invasion was initiated with an amphibious assault by elements of the U.S. Seventh Army, with a follow-up force made up primarily of the French First Army. More than 90,000 U.S. troops from the 3rd, 36th and the 45th Infantry Divisions fought alongside the French. Its success opened a second front in France allowing for logistical support to all Allied forces operating in France. Dspite being a large, complex military operation with a well-executed amphibious and airborne component, Operation Dragoon still remains largely unknown to this day.
Operation Dragoon's controversy is its importance to the war. Opponents believe that the invasion of Southern France did nothing but reduce the strength of the main Allied Campaign in the Mediterranean, the drive north up the Italian peninsula toward Austria and Hungary. On the other hand, defenders of the operation believed that even if the Italian campaign could have being accelerated, the operational and logistical difficulties of rapidly crossing the Julian Alps would have been impossible.
Captain (Ret.) Monika Stoy, president of Outpost 5845 Europe, Society of the 3rd Infantry Division and host of the ceremony, started attending celebrations in Normandy in 1989 and every year since then, witnessed the respect, admiration and gratitude of the French people to whom they believe were their liberators.
Stoy and her husband, Lt. Col. Tim Stoy, took it upon themselves to write letters to the mayors of the 250 communities that were liberated, according to the 3rd Infantry Division history. Through their dedication and hard work, 61 memorial plaques have being put in place in France, Germany and Austria since May of 2006, plaques that honor the 3rd ID veterans of Operation Dragoon.
The three-day event was aimed at honoring the veterans, preserving history and sharing knowledge. Approximately nine historians and 20 veterans were in attendance. Testimonies of Operation Dragoon's veterans were paired with the information from historians.
"This is my first time here [at the reunion], and I am learning a lot," said Bill Davis, an Operation Dragoon veteran.
The first two days saw various speakers at the podium talking about several topics, from the Big Picture of WWII in Europe and the Pacific, to the First French Army operation. At the end of the second day of seminars, a wreath laying ceremony was held at the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A memorial ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery on the third day of the reunion.
"It was an emotional rollercoaster," said Operation Dragoon veteran, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Dave Grange said. "It is a special place for me, and someday I would be there with my comrades."
During the memorial ceremony, Dr. FranAfASois Rivasseau, Deputy French Ambassador to the U.S. presented the French Legion of Honor medal, the highest decoration bestowed by France for Military service to Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Richard Seitz, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Lloyd Ramsey, Col. (Ret.) Douglas Dillard, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Sherman Pratt, Medal of Honor recipient Master Sgt. (Ret.) Wilburn Ross, and James Welsh.
"Operation Dragoon is a superb example of a successfully analyzed cooperation, the same principle we apply in Europe today where we work so closely together as Allies and partners in operations not only in Europe but around the globe," said Gen. Carter Ham, current head of U.S. Army Forces in Europe. He thanked the veterans and their Family Members for all they have done. "Those of us who serve today in the United States Army and all the United States Armed Forces and especially those of us who are honored and privileged to serve in Europe, recognize that we are heirs of a proud legacy by those who fought in Southern France in Operation Dragoon."
Brigadier General Jeffrey Phillips, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear, spoke at the event.
"We are today a nation at war; we are locked in a struggle that could define our existence," he said. "Perhaps it was more black and white 66 years ago; perhaps it was not, but it was a struggle for our way of life, a struggle to help those who perhaps could not help themselves."
Brigadier General Phillips also mentioned that like most people, he did not know much about Operation Dragoon prior to this event and that he was glad he came.
"My generation will do a better job to tell your story; I give you my word on that because I am a 3rd Infantry Soldier and because I am an American, a free American because of your efforts," he said to the Dragoon veterans. "We owe you great thanks for what you have done."