Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first day of the Normandy Invasion of World War II or D-Day as it is commonly known. Ten years ago, many of my Army colleagues were in Normandy in support of the 60th anniversary commemorations as part of the Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. The Committee stands as one of the most rewarding assignments of my Army career.
I was privileged to meet many of the real heroes who helped save the world back in 1944. And make absolutely no mistake about it. They saved the world. That’s not an exaggeration of what these brave men and woman did who fought and sacrificed not just on D-Day, but during all of World War II. Had the Allied Forces not invaded Normandy when they did, the world would probably look a lot different.
Much has been written about those brave men and woman who constitute Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” And I am neither competent nor qualified to write anything of substance on the matter. But suffice it to say that the WWII veterans I encountered during nearly two years with the World War II Committee demonstrated extraordinary strength of character, humility and heroism. There wasn’t one I met who didn’t earn every ounce of respect I could muster and then some.
My assignment to the World War II Committee turned out to be on a short list of most rewarding assignments I had in nearly 29 years in the Army. The Veterans made it so. But so did the other Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilian staff comprising the Committee’s roster.
Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland received the call to head the World War II Committee after successfully leading the Operation Tribute to Freedom Team. Tribute to Freedom was an ad hoc joint task force assembled by the Department of Defense to recognize service men and women upon their return from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. He did such an outstanding job that DoD tagged him to establish and lead the World War II Committee.
I had been Maj. Gen. Aadland’s Executive Officer on Tribute to Freedom, so he tagged me to help build the World War II Committee as its Chief of Staff and PAO. Retired Col. Larry Brom later came aboard as the Chief of Staff. I became the spokesman and Chief of Public Education and Awareness. Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster later came in as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army to take over upon Maj. Gen. Aadland’s retirement.
From April 2004 until December 2005, the Committee conducted and supported at least nine major World War II Commemorative events around the world and quite a few more smaller events including two on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Today, with the 70th anniversary of D-Day all over the news, my Facebook page has lit up with the names of some of my former colleagues from the committee. They’re all reminiscing about the unusually positive experience for each of us who served with the Committee. It really WAS a wonderfully positive assignment not just because of the veteran population we served but because of the outstanding people on the Committee. So I dug through some of my old photos and found the one “class photo” of the committee that was taken early on at the newly opened World War II Memorial on the National Mall.
Not everyone here is represented, since many on the Committee only served for a short time. The major players are there – people who established one of the most fun, supportive, rewarding and productive working environments I’ve ever experienced. Yes, we had lots of laughs, but we also did some terrific work in those nearly two years together. Here’s the photo of my colleagues many of whom still correspond. I count you all among friends and consider you all to be consummate professionals.
I’d be remiss if I were to fail to mention those from the Committee who are no longer with us:
Mr. Matt Boland
Ms. Sarah Hildebrand
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hagen, United States Army
Lieutenant Commander Jack Dunphy, United States Coast Guard
I continue to be honored to have served with you all.