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Prepared Remarks of Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James Foggo III, at Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial

May 26, 2015 at 3:10 PM UTC
Summary:

The following prepared remarks of Vice Adm. James Foggo III, commander U.S. 6th Fleet, for the Memorial Day Commemoration at Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial, Draguignan, France, May 24, 2015.

The following prepared remarks of Vice Adm. James Foggo III, commander U.S. 6th Fleet, for the Memorial Day Commemoration at Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial, Draguignan, France, May 24, 2015.

150524-N-ZZ999-070 DRAGUIGNAN, France (May 24, 2015) Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James G. Foggo III,  center, meets with World War II veteran Charly Eshine, right and Brigadier General Emmanuel Maurin of the French Army during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France, May 24, 2015. The cemetery is the final resting place for 860 U.S. military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the liberation of southern France in August 1944. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Daniel Foose/Released) 150524-N-ZZ999-070 DRAGUIGNAN, France (May 24, 2015) Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James G. Foggo III, center, meets with World War II veteran Charly Eshine, right and Brigadier General Emmanuel Maurin of the French Army during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France, May 24, 2015. The cemetery is the final resting place for 860 U.S. military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the liberation of southern France in August 1944. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Daniel Foose/Released)

 

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to express my appreciation to Alison Libersa for the personal tour of the facility, and to Superintendent Eric Barker who fervently cares for this hallowed ground. Mr. Barker’s meticulous care of this sacred spot means so much to us all - especially to the family members of the 860 Americans buried here.

(Note: France has 11 American Cemeteries – the most of any other country. 48,457 Americans are interred in France.)

I’d also like to welcome and thank ABMC Commissioner Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, her husband Carl Spielvogel, former Ambassador to the Slovak Republic, and Consul General for the United States at Marseille Monique Quesada, for joining us today.

Sub-Prefecture of Draguignan Stanislas Cazelles, Senator du var Pierre-Yves Collombat, Mayor of Draguignan Richard Strambio and Army Brigadier General Emmanuel Maurin, we are honored that you are here.

France will always be America’s first ally; our first friend. From the American Revolution until today, French and American soldiers have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the conviction that all men are endowed by their creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or, as the French express the sentiment – Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Thank you for joining us.

Sixty-nine years ago in August 1944, two months after the landings at Normandy, American and Free French troops assaulted the beaches of Southern France with the intent of defeating nearly 250,000 Axis soldiers who were defending this area, capturing the ports of Toulon and Marseille, and driving north through the Rhone Valley to link up with Patton’s Third Army.

To do so, the Allies marshaled a vast armada of ships, troops, and aircraft. The plan was straight-forward and smartly executed as commandos seized offshore islands, paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines, bombers and warships rained shells onto coastal defenses, and infantry divisions landed ashore. They achieved a tremendous victory.

Yet in that terrible war, as in all wars, our soldiers paid a profound price.   So it is fitting that we gather here under the timeless gaze of the Angel of Peace to recall those who rest here.

They were in their springtime when they left their homes so far away. They were young and vibrant, with great hopes for the future. Still they left their families to fight for man-kind and, in doing so, they sacrificed their tomorrows for ours; their dreams for our future.

They grew up fast, these young patriots. The Army that came ashore in France had been tempered by war – hardened by lessons learned in North Africa and Italy. This very young band of brothers was full of dreams and fears. They asked themselves the same questions young service men and women ask today: “Will I be brave? Will I do the right thing? Will I make my family proud?”

They did.

Through their actions, they advanced across this vast continent and accomplished the full measure of their duties. Their bravery and sacrifice laid the foundation of an immense victory against a terrible evil.

The Nazi armies were menacing. They were here on these very fields: well led, supremely confident, and vastly experienced. And the cost to defeat them – paid by men such as these - was heart-breaking.

Technical Sergeant Ward Sackal sleeps in this field. He was 19-years-old when he died in December 1943. Not long ago an elderly woman was seen visiting his grave. Her name is Christine and she was Ward’s fiancée when he went off to war. When asked, she said this:

“If I could send a message to Ward … I would tell him I believe one day we will be together again – that we will say “hello” again. And we will walk together hand in hand as we remember those beautiful days when we were so very young. Until then…(he) will always be with me in my mind and in my heart...”

Staff Sergeant Elmer Boehnke was from South Dakota. He lost his life sixty-nine years ago today; killed when his bomber crashed into the sea. While his body rests in area D, his crewmembers were never found. Their names are listed on the Wall of the Missing, along with 285 others who “sleep in unknown graves.”

Two brothers, Carl and Homer Beaver, lie side by side in area A. Homer also was 19 years old. Their mother, Cora, lived in Westerville, Ohio, where she received a telegram telling her that he had been killed in France, just six months after his older brother’s plane went down in Austria.

Eighteen U.S. Navy Sailors are buried here. So is Sergeant Charles R. Perry, the only World War II Marine buried in Europe. He died parachuting into France to help the Resistance.

The first American woman to die in action in World War II is here, as well. First Lieutenant Aleda (Al-ee-da) Lutz was a 28-year-old nurse who was caring for wounded soldiers when her plane crashed in a thunderstorm. She was involved in 196 missions and accumulated 814 hours in the air during six separate campaigns over a 20-month period in Tunisia, Italy and France.

Not every site has a known story. There are 60 plots that contain unidentified remains. The words "Here rests in honored glory a comrade-in-arms known only to God” carved into these headstones are what are called the “thirteen of the saddest words in our language.”

And so, as the seasons pass, they rest together. Some are buried with loved ones. Others lie near those who were strangers in life but became family in death. They all are now one with France; part of a glorious fraternity.

They give truth to the words of an American Soldier named Caleb Milne who was killed in Tunisia in 1943, leading the way toward France. Sensing his impending death, he sent a letter home to his mother. He wrote:

As the winter grows deep for those who remain of the “greatest generation,” I hope they find solace in knowing that the world they bequeathed to us was worth their sacrifice.

Those who forged victory in World War II reach out in spirit to today’s young patriots who are still fighting for freedom in distant lands; giving of themselves so that others may have a brighter future.

We are honored to call such men and women – past and present – Americans. We are inspired by their service and humbled by their sacrifice.

And so it is fitting that we pause one morning each May to give thanks and to remember those who left us too soon; with the passing of each breeze, in the warm embrace of this giving sun.

Thank you.

150524-N-ZZ999-091 DRAGUIGNAN, France (May 24, 2015) Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James G. Foggo III,  pauses for a photo with Navy League members during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France, May 24, 2015. The cemetery is the final resting place for 860 U.S. military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the liberation of southern France in August 1944. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Daniel Foose/Released) 150524-N-ZZ999-091 DRAGUIGNAN, France (May 24, 2015) Commander, U.S. 6th Fleet Vice Adm. James G. Foggo III, pauses for a photo with Navy League members during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial in Draguignan, France, May 24, 2015. The cemetery is the final resting place for 860 U.S. military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the liberation of southern France in August 1944. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Daniel Foose/Released)