On the early morning of June 6th, 1944, the largest amphibious operation the world has ever seen began. Allied forces comprised of American, British, Canadian, Free French and more, landed on 50 miles of beaches off the coast of Normandy. The objective, cutoff the Cotentin Peninsula from German reinforcements and take the deep port at Cherbourg. To achieve this objective, a foothold was to be established and a deep thrust into the Normandy countryside was required.
The 175th was tasked with taking Isigny-sur-Mer, which would link up the Omaha and Utah beaches. After liberating the town, the 175th was then tasked with capturing Hill 108. Hill 108 was deemed strategically important due to its elevation and overlooking St. Lo, although on the ground the hill was more of a gradual slope. The 1st BN, 175th readily captured Hill 108, but suffered heavy losses to hold onto the key terrain. The Germans began their counterattack with a massive artillery barrage, one that caught the 175th off guard because they thought the enemy was retreating. Close range fighting began, with soldiers so close that the Germans taunted the Americans during the lulls of battle. At the end of the fighting, the 1st BN, 175th successfully held onto Hill 108 but suffered 40% casualties with 60 of them dying. This valiant defense earned the 1st BN, 175th the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation and the French Croix de Guerre. Hill 108 is now known as "Purple Heart Hill".
The soldiers of the 175th that made the ultimate sacrifice are not forgotten and, for a few of the many that were buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy, soldiers from the 175th paid tribute to them. During a historical staff ride organized by the National Guard Bureau's Combat Field Studies Program, soldiers from the 175th learned the stories of specific soldiers who were buried at the cemetery.
To honor these soldiers, the American Cemetery allowed the 175th soldiers to rub sand from Omaha beach onto their grave marker. A French flag is placed to the east, symbolizing the French people that the soldiers are liberating. An American flag is placed to the west, symbolizing the Americans landing on the beaches of Normandy. Sand from Omaha beach is rubbed into the lettering on the grave marker, giving a fresh golden look to the grave marker similar to those of Medal of Honor recipient grave markers.
The soldiers of the 175th also paid respect to the missing in action. Tech SGT Robert Cohen was lost at sea after his landing craft hit a mine. His body was never recovered and he was declared dead on 14th June 1944.
After paying tribute to the fallen 175th soldiers, the staff at the American Battle Monuments Commission offered the soldiers to retire the two American flags flying over the cemetery. This was a rare opportunity and a great honor to the soldiers on the staff ride.
Thank you to the staff at ABMC for giving us the honor to retire the flags, it is a moment that each soldier will always remember. Thank you to the NGB Combat Field Studies Program for giving us the opportunity to learn about our units history and pay our respects, we appreciate the hard work and effort you put in to organizing this trip. Finally, thank you to all former and current members of the 175th for making it one of the best Infantry Regiments in the US Military. Decus et Praesidium