By Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger, 4IBCT Public AffairsAugust 11, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Robert D. Maxwell knows from first-hand experience that freedom comes at a great cost.
The veteran, who served with the 7th Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division in southern France during World War II, earned the Medal of Honor, Sept. 7, 1944, for saving fellow Soldiers by jumping onto a grenade that was hurled by advancing German troops.
Maxwell, then a Technician Fifth Grade trained to run telephone wire, was working through the night with three Soldiers to establish a command post in a home near Besancon, France, when the fateful attack occurred. The veteran said that the Germans, realizing the strategic importance of the position, barraged the CP with 20mm anti-aircraft and machine gun fire in an attempt to capture the location.
Maxwell said he and his fellow Soldiers fended the Germans off with nothing but their issued .45-caliber automatic pistols. And when a grenade landed near his feet, Maxwell said he shielded his comrades from the blast by trapping the grenade between his body and a stone wall.
Maxwell was permanently maimed in the attack, but said that his sacrifice is only one small price out of the many that American men and women have paid in the defense of freedom since the American Revolutionary War -- when freedom was purchased at the cost of blood.
Because freedom has, and continues to come at such a great cost, Maxwell said he believes it is important for veterans to share their experiences with their families and with the public so that the sacrifices that have kept Americans -- and people living throughout the world -- free, are never forgotten.
On Aug. 6, Maxwell practiced what he preached by participating in the 67th Annual Commemorative Ceremony of Operation Dragoon, held at the Memorial Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.
The ceremony was part of a four-day historical symposium sponsored by retired Capt. Monika Stoy, president of Outpost Europe’s Society of the Third Infantry Division.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, designate director of the CIA; Lt. Gen. Martin P. Schweitzer, deputy commander for operations of the 82nd Airborne Div.; Col. Roger L. Cloutier, deputy commanding general -- maneuver of Third ID; and Frederic Dore, deputy chief of mission at the French Embassy, attended the ceremony to honor Maxwell and 12 other Operation Dragoon veterans who participated in the Allied landings in southern France.
Often referred to as “the Forgotten D-Day,” Operation Dragoon began with a combined parachute drop and amphibious assault between Toulon and Cannes on the French Riviera on August 15, 1944.
The objective of the operation was to draw German forces from northern France and to seize control of important French ports. More than 94,000 U.S. troops landed ashore with the support of 900 ships, 1,300 landing craft and an air fleet of 1,300 American, British and French bombers.
Allied troops in Operation Dragoon captured more than 57,000 prisoners, seized and opened the ports of Toulon and Marseille, and liberated the southern two-thirds of France before linking up with the Normandy invasion forces.
In gratitude for their help in liberating southern France from Nazi occupation, Dore presented four Operation Dragoon veterans with the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest military decoration in France.
Pinned were retired Lt. Gen. Richard J. Seitz, who served as the commander of the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment; John Carter, who served with the 1st Airborne Task Force (Allied), and John Keller and Roy Brumfield, who served with the Third ID.
Upon the completion of the commemorative ceremony, Operation Dragoon veterans laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then, Cloutier honored Third ID veterans present at the commemorative event -- and those who gave their lives in service to the nation -- by laying a wreath at the base of the division’s monument in Arlington.
“Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid,” Cloutier said to the assembled veterans. “When your country called and said ‘Who shall we send,’ you raised your hands and said ‘Here we are, send me.' You guys stood in the gap for freedom. And because you did your duty and stood in that gap, American families sleep safe in their beds tonight.”
The commemorative event concluded at the gravesite of Audie Murphy, the most decorated veteran of World War II, where Cloutier and the veterans honored him and the Third ID by singing the Dog Face Soldier song, the official Marne song.
Maxwell said the commemorative ceremony helped highlight the importance of Operation Dragoon, which has been largely ignored in the annals of history.
“Up to this time there’s very little publicity about it,” Maxwell said. “If you look at the history of World War II in Europe you’ll see reams of material about the Normandy invasion and all the events that followed, but you’ll find practically nothing about Africa, maybe a little about Sicily in Italy, and not much about the invasion of southern France."
Maxwell said he wants the American people to know about the Mediterranean campaign and its importance in the war.
“We tied up many, many German divisions throughout the Mediterranean campaign,” he said. “We kept them busy so that they would not be there when Normandy happened.
“The entire campaign, I believe, was worthwhile, not in terms of lives lost, but in terms of the whole of the war,” Maxwell said.