Seventy years after Allied forces broke through the Atlantic Wall and began the end of Hitler's grip on Europe, a new Normandy invasion is now under way.
American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger and American Legion Auxiliary President Nancy Brown-Park are among tens of thousands from around the world who have descended on northwestern France this week to honor those who fought in the pivotal battle of the European theater in World War II. The June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of northern France began an 11-month campaign that ended Nazi Germany.
"We all owe our freedom to those who answered the call during World War II," Dellinger said after presenting a memorial wreath June 5 at the Normandy American Cemetery. "It's inspiring to come to this part of the world and see how many local people truly understand that debt and appreciate it. It is inspiring, and it is humbling, especially to be here among some of the veterans of the invasion."
Joining Commander Dellinger and President Brown-Park at the Normandy American Cemetery were USAA CEO Josue Robles, a retired Army major general, and USAA Vice President John Bird, a retired Navy admiral. USAA is the preferred provider of financial services for The American Legion.
Among the USAA contingent at the June 5 ceremony was Nathan McKinley, vice president of military and veteran affairs for USAA, whose grandfather was a D-Day veteran. Also traveling with the commander and president this week is D-Day veteran Lawrence Brannan of Morristown, Tenn.
Following the Normandy American Cemetery ceremony, the Legion and Auxiliary officials visited Pointe du Hoc, Utah Beach and Ste. Mere Eglise. In Ste. Mere Eglise, first town liberated from the Germans on D-Day, the commander saluted the Renaud family in a ceremony at the monument erected in honor of World War II Mayor Alexandre Renaud. The Renaud family has guided annual invasion anniversary commemorations since 1945. Dellinger presented a plaque to Maurice Renaud, youngest of the mayor's three sons, who witnessed the airborne assault as a small boy and has continued to assist with commemorations ever since. Renaud is president of Amis des Veterans Americains (Friends of American Veterans), an organization involved with many of the anniversary activities this week.
"It is a duty to remember," said Jean Quetier, current mayor of Ste. Mere Eglise, during a heavily attended ceremony at the signal monument on the town square. "It is a necessity."
Dellinger, Brown-Park, the USAA officials and others in The American Legion group are participating in June 6 ceremonies today at the Normandy American Cemetery, where U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande will speak to approximately 10,000 visitors and a handful of surviving World War II veterans, including Brannan, who have made the journey back to the land they helped liberate. Later on June 6, The American Legion group plans to participate in ceremonies at the Brittany American Cemetery near St. James, France.