“There are moments in a nation’s history when its future course is decided by a chosen few who walked bravely into the valley of the shadow of death,” Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti said during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Iron Mike Memorial here yesterday.
“In such moments, young men and women pledge their lives so that their nation can live,” said NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and the commander of U.S. European Command.
U.S. Army paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division; French, British, Dutch and German troops; French nationals; and family and friends participated in the ceremony, which marked the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings in France.
Each year, countless visitors come to visit the Iron Mike Memorial here. The 14-foot tall statue of a World War II-era airborne soldier is a copy of a sculpture that stands at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The statue was erected to pay tribute to the numerous American paratroopers and infantry soldiers who lost their lives in this area of France.
An inscription on the Iron Mike Memorial statue says that about 254 U.S. soldiers were killed and 525 were wounded during the Battle for La Fiere Bridgehead, June 6-9, 1944.
This 500-yard stretch of causeway transformed a unit, defined its character and inspired an Army, he said.
“The Battle of La Fiere was the most significant operation of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II,” Scaparrotti said. “It was also the costliest small-unit action in the history of the U.S. Army.”
During the early days of the Normandy invasion, the small bridge and causeway over the Merderet River — along with a nearby bridge and causeway at Chef du Pont — were critical objectives for both sides. For the Germans, they were essential to breaking up the American landing at Utah Beach. And the Americans needed to control the river crossing to expand their beachhead in Normandy. Even though the Americans were lightly armed, the Germans were never able to cross the bridge.
“Several hundred airborne warriors seized a causeway that helped free a continent and end a war,” Scaparrotti said.
The national commander of the American Legion, Charles Schmidt, noted that each of the attendees and participants who gathered at the ceremony stood in the same place as those who fought and died for the liberation of Normandy during World War II.
“Our promise is that no matter how many years pass, the world will never forget their sacrifices,” Schmidt said. “We as a nation are committed to this memory.”