News: 82nd Airborne Division honors fallen paratroopers during Memorial Ceremony
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Joe Armas
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Thousands of paratroopers have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving in combat with “America’s Guard of Honor,” the 82nd Airborne Division. The division honored those brave individuals during a memorial ceremony May 22 at the division’s War and Memorial Museum.
Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, said this ceremony was undoubtedly the most important ceremony of the year.
“What makes this ceremony special is the presence of our veterans and the presence of our Gold Star families,” said Nicholson.
“Today, we pause to honor our brothers and sisters who have given their lives as part of this great unit,” Nicholson added.
Nicholson continued, saying the paratroopers who have died during the Global War on Terror are a special breed.
“They volunteered to serve their country, knowing that they were going to war,” added Nicholson. “For that, they have earned an undying respect, not only that of their comrades and those who love them, but of the entire nation for their selfless acts.”
During the ceremony, nine current and former paratroopers who represented all of the major conflicts in which fellow paratroopers died helped lay a wreath in front of the memorial to honor the fallen.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Lopez, represented the division paratroopers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. For Lopez, today was significant for a number of reasons.
“It’s very important that we remember those who have given it all, especially during this time of year,” said Lopez, who deployed a total of seven times and retired as the senior enlisted adviser for the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
“They gave their lives so others wouldn’t have to … it’s one of those sacrifices that you never want to forget,” added Lopez.
Two-hundred and forty-seven paratroopers who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were acknowledged during the ceremony as Gold Star families approached the memorial, laying yellow roses in remembrance of their loved ones. Lopez has coached and mentored many Soldiers who were among those remembered. He said those individuals have left a lasting impact on everyone, but equally noteworthy is the sacrifice of Gold Star families.
“We need to always remember our Gold Star families and make sure they understand they are always going to be part of our extended family,” Lopez continued.
The guest speaker for the ceremony was Maurice Renaud, who, along with his mother, tended to the graves of American paratroopers who were buried in Normandy, France, during World War II. The division played a key role in the liberation of his hometown and his country. His father was the mayor of Ste Mere Eglise and wrote to then French President DeGaulle, nominating the 82nd for the French Fouragere, an award which every division paratrooper wears to this day.
Renaud said that in the letter that his father wrote, he proclaimed the 82nd paratroopers "the bravest of the brave" and that they should be honored with a glorious citation for their heroic actions.
The division suffered more than 18,000 casualties, including 3,228 deaths in World War II. Renaud said their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten, especially by him and his family.
“I would not be here today, speaking freely to you, if the 82nd had not been there to save us,” said Renaud. “No matter how many anniversaries go by, we will never forget everything that you have done for us.”