In the early hours of June 6th, 1944, the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment nervously packed up their planes full of men and gear. The men knew their mission and had literally prepared for this moment for months. Near the small, beautiful, and peaceful waters of La Fiere Bridge, many hopes and dreams of these American Paratroopers were suddenly ended. Dreams never to be fulfilled, but certainly not forgotten. We remember the sacrifices of these soldiers and recognize the price of freedom.
At the age of 26, James D. Longnecker had a full life ahead of him. Born in Nebraska, James graduated from his local high school. He then continued his studies at college in Ogden, Utah. He worked as a skilled brakeman for the Union Pacific Railroad Company for 5 years. Like his parents, his marriage quickly dissolved into a divorce. However, this did not hold him back from being patriotic and bravely representing his country. When the draft called the names of many young men throughout the country, James proudly answered by putting his career on hold to help those in the world who could no longer help themselves.
James passed through basic training at Camp Wallace, Texas, and quickly volunteered to be a paratrooper. He spent over a year in elite and vigorous training to prepare for the real thing. D-day.
The 505th PIR had to take La Fiere Bridge, a seemingly unimpressive bridge to the locals, but one that held great tactical importance to the Allies mission. Defending this bridge was a killing field. We all heard Tom Blakey talk about it. The paratroopers saw lines of German soldiers coming and were told to “pick their guy.” After 4 days of ferocious fighting, the bridge was taken. James Longnecker died on D-day plus one. I don’t know exactly how he died. I don’t know if he was scared, lonely, and homesick that day, but I do know that he was a hero. Like so many others, he gave his life for this country.
This week as I have walked the grounds of different battles and visited the graves of so many fallen soldiers, the feelings and reality of what took place here has been so strong. Standing on La Fiere Bridge, looking across the beautiful meadows, feeling the sun on my head, and wind in my ears, looking at such a beautiful place, it was hard to think so many horrible things happened there. Hard to imagine young men dying in such a place.
But, the reality is there. I am and will forever be grateful for what took place here. Grateful for the men that placed duty before their own needs, so that I could stand here today in a free country honoring the lives that were lost on that incredible June day in 1944. I am grateful for James D. Longnecker.