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Marines walk sacred beaches of Normandy

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Guide in Normandy, France
A tour guide shows archived photographs of the historic amphibious Allied landings of D-Day to Marines of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa.

Story by Sgt. Tatum Vayavananda

STUTTGART, Germany – Marine Noncommissioned Officers of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa walked the sacred, sandy beaches of Normandy, France, Dec. 11-13, to commemorate the legacy of D-Day during World War II.

“To be able to re-live the largest amphibious operation in U.S. military history, learn how it is connected into our national identity, and experience how much the French honor the sacrifice of our forefathers was beyond inspiring,” said Sgt. Miguel A. Ramirez, a noncommissioned officer with Marine Forces Europe and Africa.

71 years ago, D-Day was written into legend as the largest seaborne, amphibious invasion in history; the day of the historic Allied landings into Normandy on June 6, 1944, began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control during World War II.

“Sometimes we are so focused on our future that we forget about our past,” said Ramirez. “This experience taught the Marines about the small-unit leadership, resilience, and courage of good men that made D-Day successful. Even against the overwhelming Nazi-German opposition, the Allies were able to succeed with sheer tenacity, strategy, and force.”

Retracing the footsteps of past leaders, NCOs immersed themselves in the rich military history of Normandy with battlefield studies of the beaches, historic objective points, museums, and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

“It’s a critical, awe-inspiring moment when you’re standing on Omaha beach or the cliffs of Point du Hoc, and you’re looking at the challenges they faced; how deep the cliffs were, the size of the bluffs, the gun mounts dotted along the front line…” said Ramirez.

The landing operations were the first phase of Operation Overlord, the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale, defensive enclave on the European continent. Superiority was gained through airborne, seaborne, amphibious, and land operations by 13 nations; 10 of which are NATO allies today.

“Even though those soldiers faced insurmountable odds, the pure commitment to the man on their left and right helped them succeed in taking that beach.”

The trip was provided to the unit by the Marine Corps Association Foundation and the Marine Corps University Foundation.

“MCAF is the charitable arm of the Marine Corps Association & Foundation; together, we are dedicated to the professional development and recognition of today’s Marines and to expanding the awareness of the traditions and history of the [Marine Corps],” said Tina Pearce, the programs administrator with MCAF.

The trip provided historical context and enhanced appreciation for the challenges and successes regarding leadership traits important to the Marine NCOs.

“We’re dedicated to funding all of our programs for today’s Marines. Battle studies such as [Normandy] provide outstanding opportunities for Marines to embrace military history and their heritage as warriors,” said Pearce. “These are hands-on learning experiences for Marines and they are lessons that will not be forgotten.”

When asked how these events enrich the Marine Corps as a whole, Pearce responded with a quote by T.L. Gatchel from a 1976 Marine Corps Gazette article:

“The implements of war change; the principles don’t. The lessons that can be learned at the site of a battle fought a century ago can be as relevant as those learned at the site of one fought yesterday.”

The command, stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, is comprised of a small amount of NCOs for a component staff that supports two Geographic Combatant Commands.

“We don’t have a high quantity but the amount of quality I see in our command’s NCO corps is great; we are helping the component support three Marine Air-Ground Task Forces in three countries, a combined-arms company in Eastern Europe, and theater-security cooperation missions throughout two continents; if you look at the fact that we have only about 50 NCOs, it’s quite impressive when you take it all in,” said Ramirez.

The Allied commitment from World War II remains strong today; the Marine NCOs are called upon to support U.S. European Command for numerous NATO-led operations and exercises around the European continent that enables the alliance to continue their proven, enduring friendships more than 70 years after D-Day.

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