By Spc. Kelsey M. Little

SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France – “There are moments in a nation’s history when its future course is decided by a chosen few who walked bravely into the valley of the shadow of death,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO) and commander of U.S. European Command, speaking at a D-Day memorial celebration on June 4. “In such moments, young men and women pledge their lives so that their nation can live.”

This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the infamous D-Day landings, which took place on June 6, 1944. Army paratroopers from 173rd Airborne Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), 82nd Airborne Division, gathered with Scaparrotti and foreign military, local French nationals and family and friends to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Iron Mike Memorial site in remembrance of the sacrifices made on that fateful June day.

The statue’s moniker, “Iron Mike,” evokes the brave and resilient reputation of the American paratroopers and infantrymen who lost their lives in this area of France during the D-Day operation.

The “Iron Mike” memorial in St. Mere-Eglise, France. | Photo credit U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Agacinski

The Memorial site is located in St. Mere Eglise, near the La Fiere Bridge, where an intense battle took place from June 6 - 9, 1944. Approximately 254 Allied soldiers died and 525 were wounded during this particular combat incident as part of the larger liberation of Normandy.

“The Battle of La Fiere was the most significant operation of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II,” Scaparrotti said. “It was also the costliest small-unit action in the history of the U.S. Army.”

This 500-yard stretch of causeway transformed a unit, defined its character and inspired an Army, Scaparrotti declared.

The small bridge over the Merderet River served as a strategic point for the Americans to expand their beachhead in Normandy. The Germans, however, wanted to gain control of the bridge in order to break up the Allied landing at Utah Beach. Even though the Americans were lightly armed, the Germans were never able to take the bridge.

“Several hundred airborne warriors seized a causeway that helped free a continent and end a war,” said Scaparrotti.

The National Commander of the American Legion, Charles Schmidt, noted that each of the attendees and participants who gathered at the memorial stood in the same place as those who fought and died for the liberation of Normandy during World War II.

“Our promise is that no matter how many years pass, the world will never forget their sacrifices,” Schmidt said. “We as a nation are committed to this memory.”

–This story originally appeared on army.mil.

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