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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Highlights from the 71st Anniversary of D-Day

Hello All,

71st Anniversary of  D-Day
This past Saturday, 6 June 2015, the 71st Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day, was held at The National D-Day Memorial. The annual commemoration ceremony honors the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for us on that fateful day of days. They encompass the many reasons why we are here today and why it is of utmost importance to never forget their sacrifice for generations to come.

D-Day veterans Arden Earll and W.D. Casey with Korea Veteran Robert E. Key.
Over 1,900 people from across the world honored the Memorial with their presence for the 71st Anniversary of D-Day. Among the audience were at least 50 D-Day and World War II veterans. It is a true blessing to be able to honor these men and women while they are still with us. The theme for the day was honor, fidelity, and sacrifice; not a soul uttered a word when the 29th Division began the drum roll and Attention, followed by the Presentation of the Colors. The wreath laying portion of the ceremony, in tribute to units involved in the D-Day invasion, was especially emotional to observe, along with the playing of Taps shortly afterwards.

Dame Mary S. Barraco and I in the Education Tent.
Keynote Speaker Dame Mary Sigillo Barraco brought the audience to tears with her stirring and inspiring speech on the subject of honoring the past and preserving fierce patriotism in the face of evil. Dame Mary Barraco was an American teenager living in Nazi occupied Belgium. At the tender age of 17, Mary made the courageous decision to join the “Freedom Fighters”, a Resistance Group known for aiding downed pilots, sneaking supplies and knowledge in and out of detention camps, and providing safe haven for Jewish citizens fleeing from Nazi persecution. Mary and her fiancĂ© were eventually betrayed, for the equivalent of $15, by none other than a fellow Belgian partisan. Both were captured and separated by the Gestapo and were sent to a series of detainment camps. Mary’s fiancĂ© was executed while she spent the remainder of her captivity in a Nazi controlled concentration camp. Mary was subjected to unimaginable horrors while imprisoned, yet despite it all, she continued to fight for liberty and freedom, drawing strength from God, justice, and love of country.
U.S. Coast Guard Silent Drill Team
After Dame Mary’s moving speech, the Coast Guard Silent Drill team honored our D-Day veterans with a Tribute to Veterans performance in the Main Plaza. Once again, the audience was completely silent and in awe of the talented group of men and women displaying phenomenal discipline as they swung their battle ready rifles with precise execution.

Col. Arnald D. Gabriel 
Shortly after the conclusion of the ceremony, patrons were treated to the delightful talents of the 29th Division Band featuring guest conductor Colonel Arnald D. Gabriel, legendary conductor and World War II veteran. Col. Gabriel served as a machine gunner with the 29th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II, receiving two Bronze Star Medals, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the French Croix de Guerre. He continued his military career with 21 years  dedicated to the United States Air Force, conducting the renowned U.S. Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra, and the Singing Sergeants from 1964- 1985. Following his retirement, Col. Gabriel was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service to the U.S. Air Force and to music education. 

Woodmen of the World Lodge 175 D-Day cake.
A highlight for so many each year is the Veterans Reunion Tent. D-Day and World War II veterans are able to meet for the first time or visit with old friends as they and their families share memories of the past and hopes for the future. This year, the Reunion Tent had a special treat for our veterans and visitors. The Woodmen of the World, in celebration of their 125th anniversary, wanted to pay tribute to our D-Day veterans by baking a magnificent cake for their enjoyment. The cake showcased the twelve Allied nations that took part in the Normandy landings, along with all five invasion beaches represented around the cake.

Warmest thanks to all who supported the National D-Day Memorial for our most special event of the year, the Anniversary of D-Day. AREVA, Financial Designs, Freedom Aviation, Winoa USA, and Woodmen of the World Lodge 175 were fundamental to the success of the 71st Anniversary of D-Day. On that same token, the event would not have been such a triumph without the help of our wonderful, hardworking, and dedicated volunteers!  Thank you on behalf of all of us at the National D-Day Memorial.
President April Cheek -Messier with WWII veteran Bobbie Johnson

Take Care,

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Our D-Day Fallen: PFC Lawrence A. Roberts

Hello everyone,

Saturday is quickly approaching as we prepare to commemorate the 71st Anniversary of D-Day.  As we gather together today to pay homage to the brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen who participated in the largest amphibious invasion in history, let us not forget those who gave their lives in service to their countries, the Allied nations, and the idea of liberty.  Throughout this week we will be sharing with you stories of those men who were killed-in-action on 6 June 1944.  We hope you join us on Saturday at 11AM for a special ceremony in remembrance of the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice shown by the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force.  For more information about the events this Saturday, please visit our website at 

Roberts before the war
One of the great delights that I have working at the Memorial is spending time with D-Day veterans and getting to speak with family members of D-Day servicemen.  The following account of PFC Lawrence Roberts was sent to me just this last week from his nephew. A special thank you goes to Alan Roberts for sharing this information.

Private First Class Lawrence A. Roberts

Born on 7 February 1924 in Inman, New York (Franklin County), Roberts was one of twelve children.  In the early 1940s, he decided to move to Auburn, NY where many of his older siblings had relocating after marriage.  It was here that he attended Port Byron High School and worked in the defense industry.  Auburn was home to the American Locomotive Company and in 1942 they were in a great expansion of the commercial plant facilities to accommodate wartime production needs of diesel engines and turbo chargers. 

Roberts was inducted into the service February 1943 in Auburn and was placed in the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion with many other men from the Auburn/Buffalo region.  In March 1943, men began arriving at Camp White in Oregon for training in the 299th Combat Battalion.  Training included close order drill, extended order drill, practice rifle marksmanship, use and types of engineer tools, rigging, bridge construction, and basic demolition.  In April 1944 it was time for the battalion to move to England aboard the S.S. Exchequer – a cargo ship converted to troop transport ship.  Roberts, like majority of the men in the 299th, was from NY and watched that familiar skyline fade from view knowing that it would be a long time, if ever, before they would set eyes on their homeland again.

A Company, 1944 - Roberts is pictured 5th row, 9th from left
More training and preparations ensued after reaching England.  Then the day arrived.  On 1 June 1944, men gathered in the embarkation areas at the Port of Weymouth.  Explosives were loaded aboard LCM’s and the men in LCA’s transported out into the harbor where they were loaded and embarked onto the HMS Princess Maud and LST’s.   For the next few days, men spent their time receiving regulations, briefing, practicing battle stations, preparing explosives, practice debarkation, and briefing on the latest intelligence reports concerning the beaches. 

At 0030 on 6 June 1944 the men were awakened, breakfast was served and by 0200 men and equipment were made ready for the operation.  Roberts would be among some of the first men to hit the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach at 0633 with Company A of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion.  Eight assault teams of the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion landed in three sectors with the mission of clearing eight 50-yard gaps in the underwater obstacles.  This Battalion was the only Engineer unit to land on both American beachheads on D-Day.  By 0715 support boats were landing; however, Infantry was pinned down by heavy, deadly mortar and artillery fire.  Five of the eight gaps the 299th had been assigned were blown. 

In a letter received from Michael Accordino, fellow Engineer and member of his assault boat team, it is believed that Roberts was killed in action (the first causality of the invasion for his hometown) along with several other members of the assault boat team when explosives they had placed went off prematurely.   Roberts was interred in Normandy with so many other servicemen who were killed in action on D-Day and throughout the Overlord Campaign. Until the day she died, Roberts' mother flew his service flag every summer day - reminding everyone of the sacrifices their family, their community, and this country made on that fateful June day.  

Until next time, 


B Company Guidon from 6 June 1944; National D-Day Memorial Foundation Collection

Information from:

Commemorating the Anniversary of D-Day

70th Anniversary of  D-Day
Hello All,

The 71st Anniversary of D-Day is fast approaching with only four more days left to prepare! Will you be amongst the thousands to join us for a truly humbling and honoring ceremony commemorating the 4,413 brave Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their lives in sacrifice for the greater good?

It is hard to believe it has already been a year since the festivities of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.  Last year’s events saw the largest gathering of D-Day veterans in the country and record high numbers for visitation, totaling over 11,000 people. Over 300 D-Day Veterans from across the country made the journey to our site for the commemoration of their heroic actions. The day began with a tribute to the paratroopers who went in before dawn on D-Day with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team descending over the site, landing in front of two D-Day veteran paratroopers.

C-47 fly over, 70th Anniversary of D-Day
The ceremony continued with heart-wrenching and truly inspiring oral histories of that fateful day, read by various speakers, with Veteran Bob Sales providing the keynote speech for the ceremony. Mr. Sales landed on Omaha Beach, with the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division. After the inspirational speeches, numerous wreaths were laid in front of the Invasion Tableau in tribute to those units who sacrificed so much. The ceremony speeches concluded with a C-47 fly over, signifying the importance of such a powerful piece of machinery that helped shape the progress of the Allied Forces in World War II.

After the ceremony, guests and veterans enjoyed the Veterans Reunion tent and sounds of the '40s with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Veterans and their families were able to connect with old friends and get to know new acquaintances throughout the afternoon.

Dedicating "Homage"
To end the day, the National D-Day Memorial hosted a special viewing of Casablanca in the Grey Plaza. The evening was a perfect end to a meaningful day. But the events of the 70th Anniversary were far from over. The next day, the Town of Bedford enjoyed a special victory parade in honor of our Veterans of D-Day and World War II. And the weekend concluded with a Chapel service on Sunday, June 8th.

It is important for us to always remember the past sacrifices of our countrymen and women so that we cherish the freedoms they have provided. It is imperative that we continue to honor those who sacrificed before us and to continue their legacy.

Join us for this Saturday’s commemorative ceremony for the 71st Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, 11 AM at the National D-Day Memorial!

Bob Sales, World War II

“I tell you my story because it is in our hands, as veterans and as citizens, to preserve the legacy of those who were there. Long after the last of us has rejoined their ranks, we have to make sure that there might never come a day when June 6th means no more than any other day. That there might never be a generation of Americans for whom the name Normandy means nothing at all. Time has…thinned our ranks… since June 6th, but on this day of all days, we are always together – in spirit if not in body.” – D-Day Veteran Bob Sales. Bob has rejoined his brother’s in arms, passing away this past February 2015.

Take Care,