By Sarah Kemp
It was a day the world will never forget.
On June 6, 1944, 73,000 American military service members, plus tens of thousands of their allies, stormed the beaches of Normandy, changing the course of World War II and beginning the liberation of France.
In honor and support of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day celebrations that will take place in Normandy, France this June, the USO is sending a team, at the request of the U.S. Army in Europe, to support the current service members who will be memorializing the sacrifices of those who fought on the beaches.
Four employees from USO Europe will pack in two loaded-up minivans for a 10-hour road trip to Normandy. Once they arrive, the team plans to pitch tents and set up USO areas for service members to relax and recharge in between their duties. These support service areas – located at Sainte-Mère-Église, Carentan, and Omaha Beach – will feature classic USO amenities like Wi-Fi, fun giveaways, snacks and other refreshments.
Over the course of nine days, more than 1,300 U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen will participate in the commemoration of the Allies’ efforts on D-Day. Highlights of the week-long program will include a memorial event on June 6th at the Normandy American Cemetery – where 9,387 Americans are buried –followed by a paratrooper event on June 9th to honor the 13,000 paratroopers who risked their lives during D-Day.
Additionally, a special 75th D-Day commemoration coin has been designed by the USO and Joint Task Force 75, the committee created to host the activities. The coin will be a significant memento for current military to honor the lineage of the service members who fought at D-Day.
There will be opportunities for active duty soldiers currently serving to present WWII veterans from the same unit with the coins to thank them for their service.
“The core of USO’s mission today is to connect service members to family, home and country,” said Ashley Grassl, the USO Rhein Main Area senior operations manager.
“We are happy to provide the ability for [service members] to communicate with loved ones back home with free Wi-Fi [while they participate in the historical D-Day events].”
Grassl and the other three USO Europe staff members who will be at Normandy, have each worked at the USO for at least 7 years, totaling in a collective 30 years of service.
USO Rhein Main Area Director Grant McCormick, another member of the Normandy team, is an Air Force veteran who feels a sense of honor in continuing the work of the USO.
“You are part of a team,” McCormick said. “A team that includes the men and women that served before you, the people you are serving with now, and those that will serve long after you retire.”
USO Wiesbaden Center Manager Robert Gilpatrick, who will also be aiding in the USO efforts, is excited at the opportunity to learn more about the historic sacrifices made by members of the 82nd Airborne as he is a veteran of the Army unit.
“D-Day began the liberation of Europe, where we are all free to live now in peace,” Gilpatrick said. “I’m excited to visit a place that is very special to me.”
The USO was born in 1941 out of the need to support our WWII military members, and 78 years later USO staff continue to honor that legacy by serving the same mission.