Cadets from Southside Virginia honor veterans by participating at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia:
Cadets from Southside Virginia have a unique opportunity to honor our veterans by participating in events at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Army Junior ROTC cadets from three Pittsylvania County Schools – Chatham High School, Dan River High School, and Tunstall High School – along with the Navy Junior ROTC program at George Washington High School in Danville, Virginia, have been participating each year on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the annual commemoration of the Normandy Invasion on the 6th of June each year. Cadets help by posting the colors, parading historic flags provided by the Roanoke Chapter of the Military Order of World Wars and by serving as ushers.
Bedford was chosen for the Memorial because the town had the highest losses per capita in the invasion of any community in the country. Nineteen members of Company A, 116th Infantry based in Bedford were killed in the initial assault on Omaha Beach. Four more soldiers from Bedford were killed later in the campaign. Building the Memorial was the idea of the late Sergeant John Slaughter who participated in the landings on Omaha Beach with Company D of the 116th Infantry. Situated on a hill overlooking the city, the Memorial tells the story of the invasion through displays, bronze statues, and plaques which honor members of all branches of the Armed Forces who served and those who died in the invasion. A learning center and a museum are planned as additions to the Memorial in the future.
This year’s commemoration of D-Day was particularly poignant since it marked the 70th anniversary of the invasion and was attended by hundreds of D-Day veterans as well as veterans and active duty members of all the services. The commemoration began with a parachute jump by members of the Army’s Golden Knights. After the jump, members of the team presented batons to two World War II veterans who made the night jump into Normandy before the beach landings. A crowd of nearly 10,000 attended the ceremonies and included visitors from around the world. A number of dignitaries helped commemorate the event by recounting the experiences of veterans who survived the invasion. Cadets from Tunstall High School presented the colors outfitted in original World War II Army uniforms. All four cadets had relatives who served in World War II.
The events at the National D-Day are especially meaningful for Warrant Officer (retired) Ronnie Emerson who serves as the Senior Army Instructor for Dan River High School. Mister Emerson’s late father, Master Sergeant (retired) Alfred C. Emerson, Sr., was a soldier in the 116th Infantry of the 29th Infantry Division and landed on Omaha Beach on June 6th seventy years ago. Mr. Emerson followed in his father’s footsteps by serving in the same unit in South Boston, Virginia.
Although the Normandy Invasion has been portrayed in a number of movies including The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan, the chance to meet veterans who actually participated in the invasion has been a special opportunity for the cadets to connect to one of the key events in our Nation’s history. The cadets will be able to carry the memories of their participation for a lifetime. Individuals interested in learning more about the National D-Day Memorial can visit the website at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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