“Rock of the Marne,” a nickname given to the 3d Infantry Division because of the stance the division took while protecting Paris on the banks of the Marne River during World War I.
3rd Infantry Division World War II veterans were honored during a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on 10 August 2010, for their part in Operation Dragoon, also referred to as the “forgotten D-Day”.
On 15 August 1944, in southern France, two months after the initial Normandy invasion– 885 ships, 1,300 landing crafts, just as many bombers and 150,000 combined troops blasted a back door into France and expedited the liberation of Europe. This offensive operation was coined Operation Dragoon. Some historians say the August 44’ foray marked the beginning of one of the most triumphant campaigns of World War II, consequentially capturing the largest port in Marseille, France and facilities in Toulon for prosecution of the war to drive the German Army back into the Rhineland. Nevertheless, that day has for the most part been overlooked.
Landing in the first assault wave were three of the U.S. Army’s most experienced combat divisions – the 3rd, 36th, and 45th Infantry Divisions under the command Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch (7th Army) and Major General Lucian K. Truscott (6th Corps). This operation effectively forced the 19th German Army and famed 7th Panzer Division to retreat north and east after the earlier main invasion on 6 June 1944. With combined naval and air combat support, Operation Dragoon allowed the Allies to secure critical logistical harbor nodes in Toulon and Marseilles facilitating further prosecution of the war — ensuring the continued westward retreat of the German Army.
The 3d Infantry Division has one of the most successful combat records of any U.S. Army division. It has paid a high price for that distinction, with nearly 35,000 wartime casualties. Fifty-members of the “Rock of the Marne” have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism and gallantry while serving their nation.
At the Arlington ceremony, guest speaker General Carter F. Ham, Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe, spoke, “By any measure, even today, Operation Dragoon was an overwhelming success. The 7th Army defeated Hitler’s 9th Army, captured over 100,000 prisoners, liberated two-thirds of France and linked up with the Normandy Forces, all within 30 days.”
As part of the ceremony, four combat hardened veterans were presented with France’s highest decoration, the French Medal of Legion by Francois Rivasseau, Deputy French Ambassador to the U.S. Those veteran recipients were Major General Lloyd Ramsey, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division, Master Sergeant Jim Welsh, 551st Airborne, Colonel Douglas Dillard, 551st Airborne, and Lieutenant Colonel Sherman Pratt, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division.
Wreaths were also placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns and at the 3rd Infantry Division Monument; while a graveside tribute was paid to one of the most famous “Dog-Faced Soldiers”– 1st Lieutenant Audie Murphy.
Prior to the event, I was privileged to be welcomed by Captain David Adams, who served with several combat units within the 3rd Infantry Division, in the former West Germany, at the height of the 1960s era Cold War. Captain Adams then introduced me to many of our greatest generation’s veterans. A special highlight for me was meeting Colonel Henry Bodson. Bodson was a personal friend of 1st Lieutenant Audie Murphy during the campaign. 1st Lieutenant Murphy was the most decorated soldier of WWII and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during Operation Dragoon.
Colonel Bodson is a young 91 years old and still full of life and vitality. In speaking with him I realized that time is the adversary of remembrance. Someday soon these great patriots will no longer be with us to share their stories and we will no longer be able to listen to their words, shake their hands, or say thank you to their faces. Their history and war stories will be relegated to books, magazines, microfiche or to being told by family members who listened closely every time a veteran opened up to talk about their service in the military. We must commemorate these events for our veterans as often as possible whilst never forgetting their sacrifices. It is our obligation and responsibility to commemorate and honor the gift our veterans have given us and our Allies – FREEDOM.
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*photos taken by Author John Gresham