A group of World War II veterans was recognized July 21 in a ceremony held in Washington, D.C., for their gallantry during a 1944 combat operation in southern France.
Operation Dragoon lasted from Aug. 15 until Sept. 14, 1944. It was the second largest amphibious invasion of World War II, with over 1,000 ships delivering three divisions of troops to the beaches of France. Additionally, an airborne division parachuted into the country to help secure beach heads along with Greek, Polish and Dutch forces, according to retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Timothy Stoy, historian for the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division.
The Society of the 3rd Infantry Division hosted the ceremony honoring veterans who fought during the operation. French Army Col. Brice Houdet, military attachÃˆ from the French Embassy, presented the French Legion of Honor during the ceremony to retired U.S. soldiers John Singlaub, Paul Donlon, Darryl Egner, Elias Hernandez, Michael Halik and the son of Stanley Siemrzuch.
Before presenting the French awards, Houdet thanked the group of veterans on behalf of the people of France.
“I would like to salute all of the American allied veterans who took part in that momentous operation 68 years ago,” he said. “We are deeply honored to have some of you with us today.”
“I will have the distinct honor to present six of these highly deserving former service members with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest national honor and distinction, for their outstanding services during World War II,” Houdet said.
The six award recipients were all accompanied by members of the Military District of Washington’s Sgt. Audie L. Murphy Club, representing the connection to Murphy and the 3rd Infantry Division in which he served.
During the ceremony, U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson, currently the command sergeant major of the 3rd Infantry Division, narrated a Missing in Action presentation, and explained the items on a table displayed to honor fallen soldiers.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Randy E. Manner, Joint Staff director for the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said Operation Dragoon may not be as well known as some other World War II operations, but it should be remembered for its strategic importance.
“Sometimes, the voice of history does not speak as loudly about some events such as Operation Dragoon,” Manner said.
“So that’s our job today … to be that voice and to speak loudly about those great successes all those many years ago,” he said. “Those gathered here … know the strategic value of Operation Dragoon.”
Manner, whose father served under Singlaub, a retired Army major general, noted Operation Dragoon was critical because it opened a much-needed supply line into France for the allies to “continue to smash the Nazis.”
“History records that over 90,000 soldiers and over 11,000 vehicles were on the beach, on the ground, within days,” he said. “The bottom line is the operation significantly contributed to the shortening of the war in Europe, which meant, of course, the shortening and the lessening of the number of lives that were lost and the number of the families that were affected.”
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, director of operations, readiness and mobilization for the Department of the Army, thanked all of the veterans present for their sacrifice and “tremendous” service to the country.
“Although not as well known as Operation Overlord, Operation Dragoon was a highlight of the second World War for many in our military,” he said. “[It was] one of the most successful combined joint operations in the European theater.
“Today, we take fighting as a joint team, alongside our sister services, for granted, just as we’ve come to count on our multi-national allies to be there in operations around the world today,” Vandal said. “But on Aug. 15, 1944, in the early days of the liberation of Europe, such a level of cooperation was far from commonplace.”
Vandal called the allied forces a “vanguard” of history who forged a path “for all of us to follow.”
“Some historians have mistakenly called Operation Dragoon the ‘forgotten D-Day,’ particularly in comparison to the larger and more famous invasions of Normandy,” he said. “In fact, some have even gone so far as to imply that the operation was easy – merely a cakewalk.
“Sgt. Audie Murphy, from the 3rd Infantry Division, might disagree with this characterization,” Vandal said. “Given that he earned a Distinguished Service Cross during Operation Dragoon, I think it speaks for itself [and what troops] did.”
Vandal noted allied forces of Operation Dragoon advanced more than 500 miles in less than a month and took more than 100,000 Germans prisoner.
“Overlooked by history or not, Operation Dragoon was a pivotal moment in the history of France, a fact well understood by all of you veterans sitting here today,” he said.
Vandal, a former member of 3rd Infantry Division himself, expressed his appreciate for all World War II veterans.
“All of our veterans are a national treasure, and we are all fortunate to be in their presence,” he said. “They have left a legacy for our Army and our nation to follow.”