SAINT MARIE DU MONT, France (NNS) -- The United States Navy was honored with the unveiling of a D-Day memorial statue in Saint Marie du Mont Sept. 27
Construction of the statue, commissioned by the Naval Order of the United States, began more than five years ago at the hands of Stephen Spears after realization that no monument existed to honor the U.S. Navy's involvement with D-Day.
"Five years ago, we learned that among all the armed services of France's allies that fought here, the U.S. Navy alone had no tribute on the beaches of Normandy," said retired Capt. Kenneth Johnson, commander general of the Naval Order of the United States. "At long last this statue will be a fitting tribute to the service and sacrifice of the U.S. Navy at Normandy."
The monument is dedicated to the brave Sailors who fought in the invasion of Normandy. More than 1,000 Sailors gave the final full measure of devotion, laying down their lives for others. In attendance at the ceremony were veterans of World War II and Sailors from United States European Command; Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe; and the crew from USS The Sullivans (DDG 68).
"We are here to thank and pay tribute to all the men of the United States Navy who gave or risked their lives for our freedom in the battle of Normandy," said retired Capt. Gregory Streeter, president of the Naval Order of the United States Foundation and chairman of the Navy D-Day monument project.
"We especially honor those who travelled around the globe to be in attendance today. These brave men sitting in the front row were right over that dune or walking on this very soil on the morning of June 6, 1944, and we are honored to have them among us today."
During the ceremony, three D-Day veterans received the Legion of D'Honneur, France's highest decoration, and awarded the order of Chevalier or "Knight" of the Legion of Honor. The awards, presented by Adm. Pierre-Francois Forissier, Chief of Naval Staff of the French Navy, and the Honorable Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of Defense, were presented to retired Capt. Richard Zimermann, Jim Gaff and Chester Collins.
The monument has been placed on land located on the battlefield of Utah Beach and was donated by the town of Saint Marie du Mont.
"The landing here in Saint Marie du Mont, and all over Normandy, was full of promises that, by the sacrifices of numerous young men, were transformed to great hope for France and all of Europe," said Henri Milet, Major of Saint Marie du Mont. "We are proud to donate this land for this great monument and are proud to be its caretakers. We are pleased to tell you today in peace and in full freedom, thank you, and we reassert our commitment to honor your memory so that this friendship between our people long remains."
On April 10, 1944 the Allied Navy officers received the confirmation that a landing would take place on the Normandy coasts. This operation would be code-named Neptune. A total of 5,300 craft of all kinds, plus 4,000 relay ships were used making it the largest fleet in the history of the world.
"Throughout history, brave men in decisive battles like Thermopylae, Gettysburg and Midway have changed the course of civilization. The same can be said of the men who fought here on D-Day sixty four years ago. They too, were a part of something huge and historic," said England. "Victory or defeat at Normandy would determine the future, not just for France or Europe, but for all of humanity. This operation proved to be the largest operation in human history, and none of it would have been possible without the United States Navy."
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