1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. celebrates D-Day

Story and photos by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson
196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

CONTIGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq — Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 265th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) celebrated their lineage and honored Veterans during a ceremony here June 6, the 66th anniversary of D-Day.

The 116th Inf. Regt. was one of four National Guard regiments comprising the 29th Infantry Division, established during World War II, that were part of the initial invasion of Normandy, France, in 1944.

“This day is huge for us, not only as a company, but as a battalion,” said 1st Sgt. Kevin Stewart, first sergeant with A Company, 1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. and an Appomattox, Va., native. “A Company had a significant role in World War II because the unit was part of the Allied invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy.”

During the ceremony, Soldiers with 1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. received a first-hand idea of what their predecessors endured during the Normandy invasion by listening to Stewart read a letter written by Bob Slaughter, one of the survivors of D Company, 116th Inf. Regt., 29th Inf. Div., a unit that participated in the first wave of landings on the area of Omaha Beach known as the “Dog Green” sector, according to Slaughter’s official biography.

In addition to the readings by Stewart, a prayer, offered to Soldiers on D-Day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was also read to the current Soldiers of 1st. Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. 

In the prayer, Roosevelt said, “Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity … They will be sore; tried, by night and by day, without rest, until the victory is won … Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war … Some will never return. Embrace these, father and receive them, they heroic servants…”

As the decades pass, World War II Veterans are dwindling in numbers, leaving their legacy to be remembered and retold by younger generations.

Maj. Michael Petterson, executive officer with 1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. and a Burke, Va., native, said he takes it upon himself to remind people of the more than 200 years of Army service and sacrifices made and encourages Soldiers to learn, and relearn, the lessons of freedom.

“As an Army officer, I believe a lot of what the Army has gone through in the past can be used to educate and teach Soldiers of the future,” he said. “If time is taken to study what our Army has done and what it’s accomplished, there’s a realization the Army doesn’t change much.  People are still the same.  A lot of them are driven by the same patriotism to serve their nation.”

Petterson said it’s important to remember the men and women in America’s history who have done difficult things and reminds Soldiers to keep that in mind as they deploy to Iraq.

“If you don’t know that, you can get down and think you’re going through a very unique situation,” he said to Soldiers during the D-Day ceremony. “If you look at the regimental crest, the division patches you wear and the battle streamers, all those mean something.  The men and women who have gone before us have earned those things. The fact that this battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation (during World War II) for its actions means a lot to me to come out and help educate the Soldiers.”

The decorations of the World War II Veterans from 116th Inf. Reg. are displayed in Bedford, Va., where the National D-Day Memorial is located.

“The town of Bedford lost more Soldiers, per capita, than any other city,” Stewart said. “I have the privilege of being the first sergeant of that unit.”

When not deployed, 1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. would normally participate in the D-Day ceremonies back in Bedford, Va., Stewart said.

“If we were there and not here, the company would go out in Class A uniform and participate in the memorial ceremony,” he said. “Many of our Families are in Bedford, attending the ceremony there today. It was important for us, today, to do something in honor of the men who fought and died that day.”

The 116th Inf. Regt., 29th Inf. Div. was the only National Guard infantry regiment that landed for the beach assault on D-Day, Petterson said.

“D-Day is part of our lives; part of our history,” said Lt. Col. E. Scott Smith, commander of 1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. and a Lynchburg, Va., native. “We’re extremely proud to wear the 29th (Inf. Div.) patch. It creates a kinship.  The Soldiers know they are doing the same as their predecessors did and they share a certain bond. It’s the same reason one is proud of their Family they belong to.”

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Sgt. William Henderson, a chaplain assistant with 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and a Lynchburg, Va., native, reads a prayer June 6 at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq given by President Franklin D Roosevelt to Soldiers in 1944 before the invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. The 116th Inf. Reg., 29th Infantry Division was the only National Guard regiment that participated in the beach landings on D-Day. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)

 

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1st Sgt. Kevin Stewart, first sergeant of A Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and an Appomattox, Va., native, reads a letter written by a World War II Veteran from the 116th Inf. Regt. June 6 at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq. The 116th Inf. Reg., 29th Infantry Division was the only National Guard regiment that participated in the beach landings on D-Day. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)

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Soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), commemorated the lineage and honor of the Veterans June 6 by hosting a D-Day celebration at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, on the 66th anniversary of the invasion. The 116th Inf. Reg., 29th Infantry Division was the only National Guard regiment that participated in the beach landings on D-Day. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)

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Maj. Michael Petterson (standing), executive officer with 1st Bn., 116th Inf. Regt. and a Burke, Va., native, speaks to Soldiers about the unit’s role in the World War II invasion at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, during a D-Day celebration, June 6 at Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq, on the 66th anniversary of the operation. The 116th Inf. Reg., 29th Infantry Division was the only National Guard regiment that participated in the beach landings on D-Day. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Johnson)