American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz had one word to describe his experience at the Normandy American Cemetery on the 69th anniversary of D-Day: "emotional."
Koutz and American Legion Auxiliary National President Peggy Thomas joined other veterans and Legionnaires to raise the U.S. and French flags when the cemetery opened Thursday. As visitors entered, including hundreds of schoolchildren, the commander and president toured the hallowed resting place of 9,387 Americans who lost their lives in the June 6, 1944, battle and the weeks that followed.
Among the graves is that of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a Medal of Honor recipient and a founder of The American Legion. "Seeing Teddy Roosevelt Jr.'s grave was very important to me," the national commander said.
The commander and president laid wreaths at the "America Youth Rising from the Waves" statue, as did representatives from USAA, The American Legion's preferred provider of financial services. The USAA group joined the commander and president of visits to Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc and Utah Beach as the day unfolded. The anniversary day of ceremonies concluded in Ste. Mere-Eglise, the first town liberated in the Normandy invasion. There, the commander and president both placed wreaths at the town square where U.S. paratroopers jumped in the early morning darkness of June 6, 1944.