DRAGUIGNAN, France — An honor platoon of service members from Naval Station Rota, Spain honored 861 American World War II soldiers buried at the Rhone National cemetery here, May 24 during its annual Memorial Day service. On Aug. 15 1944, under the cover of heavy naval bombardment by the Western Naval Task Force, three Divisions of the U.S. VI Corps stormed ashore from St. Tropez to St. Raphael. The units broke through the steel and concrete fortifications and advanced inland so rapidly they established contact with airborne units that were dropped in the night before by nightfall.
"I am proud and honored to be here, standing before you on this deeply meaningful and special day," said Navy Adm. Mark Fitzgerald Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe Africa during his remarks. "We not only honor the brave young American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, but we also honor our French compatriots that have equally sacrificed everything to preserve freedom, democracy and equality." The honor platoon, comprised of sailors, airmen and Marines assigned to various commands in Rota, were picked by their Chiefs and officers to represent the best of Rota.
"This was a great honor," said Navy Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Amber Pierce. "My great-grandfather fought in World War II in Europe flying fighter planes. So being here, I feel privileged to represent him and to honor all those all over the world and who are buried here."
Two families of internees were present during the ceremony. They were Army 1st Lt. Norman R. Opferman, represented by James and Stella Opferman and Navy Aviation 2nd Class William H. Ryan, represented his niece Lois Heist.
"It's a memorial for everybody," said James Opferman. "The overwhelming feeling today is that no one is forgotten here. He [Norman] is remembered here, not just for the day, but all the time. I can't believe our good fortune of being here and it was nice that the U.S. military comes here to remember. Sometimes we come together for good times and sometimes for bad; today, it was a good time."