WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 29, 2015) — Four 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers, who had fought their way through Europe during World War II, were welcomed at Arlington National Cemetery, Sept. 19, as part of a commemoration of the 71st anniversary of the 6th Army Group’s Campaign in France, which took place Aug. 15, 1944 through Feb. 9, 1945.
Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, Army G-8, and one-time commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, addressed equally the four veterans, now in their late 80s to mid-90s, who sat at the front of the amphitheater, as well as currently-assigned 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers, mostly in their 20s, who sat at the rear.
“What I really think is the most special thing today is the folks in the front row who are exceptionally special, by the fact that if you look from my perspective you really have here the bookends of the United States Army in the front row and the back row,” Murray said. “We’ve got the last [of a] generation that has built our legacy as an Army, that has built our foundation as a country, that has given us the freedoms, liberties and the rights that we all enjoy each day.”
And in the back row, he said, gesturing to the younger Soldiers, “you’ve got the generation that will carry that forward into the future and build on the legacy, which you handed them, build on the honor that you’ve established for the Army and the country.”
Speaking for Army officers now at the height of their careers, in positions now where they are neither the oldest nor the newest of living Soldiers, Murray acknowledged the contributions of those who built the Army he entered, and those who will carry it forward.
“For those of us in the middle, I’m thankful to both of those generations: the generation that gave me the foundation that I have built upon for 33 years, and the generation that will carry that legacy forward,” he said. “I look back on history, and I admire what you have accomplished. And I look forward to what you will accomplish.”
The military attaché to the French Embassy, Col. Didier Gros, has commanded the French army’s 1st Infantry Regiment – the oldest of its units, established in 1479. He told the WWII Soldiers that they weren’t just American veterans.
“To us you are also French veterans who sacrificed and suffered a lot while many of your friends never made it back,” Gros said. “So rest assured, we [Mayor Regis Martin of St. Marc Jaumegarde, France] are truly honored and grateful for all that you did to free France and millions of Europeans.”
Gros said that French citizens back in Europe never forget the sacrifice American Soldiers made, because the reminders of that sacrifice are all around them.
“Thousands of your comrades-in-arms made the ultimate sacrifice,” he continued. “They are resting in American cemeteries on French soil, a constant reminder of their commitment to their fight for our freedom. Indeed today, wherever one travels throughout France, the Soldiers who fought in World War II are never far away: memorials and flags dot cities and villages while streets are named after famous commanders of those battles.”
ROCK OF THE MARNE
A little more than 71 years ago, the 7th and 6th Army Groups, to include the 3rd Infantry Division, began their great slug through the European fronts. They engaged in offensive ground combat operations in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Germany and Austria.
On Aug. 15, 1944, the Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division, helped launch Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, when they landed at St. Tropez, advanced up the Rhone Valley, through the Vosges Mountains, and reached the Rhine at Strasbourg, Nov. 26-27, 1944.
After maintaining defensive positions, the 3rd Infantry Division helped clear the German army from Colmar Pocket and Alsace, France. That was accomplished by Jan. 9, 1945. It had been a brutal winter with more than three feet of snow and temperatures down to -4 degrees F.
The 3rd Infantry Division was activated 98 years ago in November 1917 at Camp Greene, North Carolina.
Eight months after their activation, the division saw combat for the first time in France. On July 14, 1918, the division earned its lasting distinction. The division was protecting Paris by holding a position on the banks of the Marne River. While surrounding troops retreated, the 3rd Infantry Divison, including the 30th and 38th Infantry Regiments, held their ground. It was there they earned their moniker, “Rock of the Marne.”
Following the formal commemoration at the cemetery, the veterans laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the grave of Audie Murphy, and the monument to the 3rd Infantry Division.
“We find strength in the bravery and sacrifice of the Dogface Soldiers of the Marne division … heroes and warriors, some standing with us here today, who helped preserve the ideals of our nation,” Murray said. “This monument serves as an enduring reminder of those Soldiers and gives us comfort knowing they rest now with the angels.”
By J.D. Leipold