More than 50 service members representing the various components of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe took part in numerous ceremonies and events commemorating the 66th anniversary of D-Day in the Normandy region of France June 2-6.
Elements of 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Naval Special Warfare Unit 2 and SOCEUR Signal Detachment proudly stood in formations throughout the region where Allied forces fought to repel German troops at famous battle sites such as Pointe du Hoc, Montebourg, Saint Mere Eglise, and Utah Beach.
As part of the nearly week-long event, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines visited the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial and the German War Grave in Mont-de-Huisnes.
During the week, a special staff ride was coordinated by Col. John Lazaro, SOCEUR Deputy J3, to give the service members a unique and introspective look of what happened during the D-Day time period from a special operations aspect or contribution at each of the locations they visited.
“A staff ride, or battlefield terrain walk and study, is an essential part of the study of the science and art of war,” Lazaro said. “We would have missed the opportunity to gain an understanding of what occurred in Normandy had we not physically touched these sites and walked the ground.”
From a SOF perspective, Lazaro mentioned specifically how specialized forces contributed and impacted conventional operations.
“Studying the actions of the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Pointe du Hoc opened the eyes of some when we talked about both the Allied deception, information and psychological operations prior to the 6 June landings, as well as the mission of naval underwater demolition teams on the beaches before the landings,” said Lazaro.
At each of the staff ride sites, the troops were given historical facts about the fighting that took place and how the strategy of war is relevant even today.
During the visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Staff Sgt. Joel Cruz walked along Omaha Beach shore and collected sand from the beach to take home with him as a reminder of his experience. Staring out at the English Channel, he was taken aback of what the same scene looked like 66 years earlier.
“Before coming, I watched the entire series of “Band of Brothers,” movies “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Longest Day” so I can get a feel of what really took place here,” Cruz said. “It’s amazing how peaceful it is today. I can’t imagine how those Soldiers fought up this terrain as Germans opened fire on them.”
The highlight of the commemoration was the airborne operation in which nearly 300 paratroopers jumped and landed on the “Iron Mike” Drop Zone outside of the town of Saint Mere Eglise, France.
Exiting the drop zone, the paratroopers were greeted by thousands of Normandy residents as they applauded and stopped them for photo and souvenir opportunities. Soldiers gave away their skill badges, unit and combat patches freely to the children who pleaded in English with their French accents, “souvenir, souvenir.” It was a simple gesture of thanks from paratroopers to the residents in recognition of what took place 66 years ago on the same soil.
Reflecting on the overall event, Lazaro summed up the experience.
“This final point sets the conditions for their (SOCEUR service members) future return, hopefully with their families, with whom they can pass on the story of America’s greatest generation.”