36th Infantry Division Association

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

The 1998 Battlefield Tour
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Ray Wells
Company H
141st Infantry Regiment

Our Italy Tour group has been joined by those flying directly from the US to Nice, France, bringing our number to twenty-three 36th Division Vets and eighteen family members. The first ceremonial event took place at 1800 hours at the War Memorial of the city of Nice, France. Three members of the 36th presented a wreath in honor of the war dead and Colonel Touboul laid a wreath in the name of the First French Army "Rhine et Danube." "Taps," and the national anthems of France and the United States were played for the one-hundred-fifty attendees. At 1900 hours, an official awards ceremony was held at the Maison du Seminaire in Nice. Colonel Touboul, Department President of the First French Army Association" Rhin et Danube", decorated Gordon Rose, Morris Courington & Ray Wells with the "Rhine et Danube Combat Medal," followed by French and US national anthems. In attendance at the evening's meal honoring the 36th Division were ninety-two people.

At 1000 hours, 23 April 1998, a memorial ceremony was held at the Chapel of the Rhone American Military Cemetery located at Draguignan, France in honor of the ninety-seven members of the 361 interred at the cemetery. The Rhone American Military Cemetery is the only military cemetery in Southern France and one of six WWII cemeteries located throughout France. Along with five military cemeteries from WWI, the total number of American military cemeteries in France is eleven. The land the cemeteries are on are actually owned by the United States and are maintained beautifully. The Superintendents of each cemetery is a US Citizen.

The Deputy Mayor of Draguignan gave an excellent address tracing the WWII efforts of the 36th to the seventy-five persons in attendance. I think that it is most appropriate to include the translation of Deputy Mayor Valids speech here. It certainly does show the feelings of the French people for the 36th Infantry Division.

"No doubt this ceremony is an opportunity for me to acknowledge the 36th Division veterans merit and it offers an exemplary character and that is why I can appreciate the honor you do me today when I have the privilege to welcome you. The men of the 36th Infantry Division as well as all the men who crossed the Atlantic Ocean to fight in Europe, were moved by a collective ambition which transcendental to any personal advantage because this ambition was to serve the freedom of nations and the future of the world. The men of the 36th Infantry Division have the symbolization of the strong collective adventure devoted to men's dignity, which was at stake and you had pledged your faith to do it was nothing else than the capacity of men to uphold freedom against enslavement 

Landing on the coast of France under heavy Nazi machine gun fire are these American soldiers, shown just as they left the ramp of a Coast Guard landing boat.
Medics helping injured soldier in France, 1944. Image sources: Still Picture Branch. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

"Now I must say that as I am a Deputy Mayor and also as I was for so many years an officer in the French Army, I do feel the greatest pleasure to underline the perfect co-operation which existed as early as 1943 in Italy between the famous French Expeditionary Corps of General Join and the American Forces of the Fifth Army. Your 36th Division is all the more precious to our hearts, you landed on August 15th, 1944 at the Dramont near St. Raphael before liberating such cities as Grenoble, Montelimar, Lyons, Remiremont in the Vosges mountains and Haguau in Alsace.

French Marine Honor Guard

Some of the 36th Vets on the left and on the right French Marines as Guard of Honor during the ceremonies at the Monument to the 36th located on the beach where the 141st Regiment landed during the Southern France Invasion.

French Marine Honor Guard

French Marine Honor Guard

"My dear friends, here is the reason which makes me believe that your sadness in this holy burial ground is the one we feel also. The City of Draguiganan, and France and Europe are forever indebted to you for the respect you showed and for the memory you saved. It is obvious when you refer to a few of the most glorious pages and at the same time the most deadly ones of the history of WWII which were written by the 36th Division; for instance in December 1944 these heroic soldiers fought the most bloody battles at Selestat, in early 1945 at Oberhoffen, Rottrwiller, Herreslisheim and Drusenheim; in March 1945 they took part to the offensive movement of the 7th Amy to surround 100,000 German soldiers. No wonder that such a bold attitude may explain that the 36th Division took so many prisoners, among them many of the Nazi dignitaries in May 1945 and those Nazis were to be condemned to death by the International Tribunal in Nuremberg. We can't forget that the 36th Infantry Division has had the longest period of fighting of WWII. Here is why, my dear friends, on behalf of the Mayor of Draguignan, Christian Martin, I am so proud to be with you today for this ceremony. This visit to the Rhone Cemetery, moving and friendly as it is, shows a vision of the world and it honors the Veterans of the 36th Division and through them, the United States of America".

Commander John Willms of Riviera American Legion Post 5, offered a special memorial prayer for the 36th Division dead. Three Veterans of the Division presented a wreath as did the Mayor of Draguignan. "Taps" was played as well as the National Anthems of France and the United States. We were all invited to have lunch at the French Military Mess in Draguignan with many of the French Officials and members of the American Legion Post. We then boarded our bus to travel the few miles to the Dramont where the 36th Division made the beach landing on the 15th of August 1944.

At 1500 hours a very impressive ceremony commemorating the beach landing was conducted. Twenty-three 36th Division Veterans were placed between the French Infantry Marine Honor Squad and the bugler and the American Legion members. The Mayor of Saint Raphael gave an excellent address underscoring the bravery and valor of the fighting men of the 36th Division. Commander John Willms of Riviera Post 5 gave an address in English to over four hundred (400) spectators praising the 36th and their war activities in Europe during WWII. Wreaths were presented by three members of the 36th, the Mayor of Saint Raphael and the French Veterans Association of Saint Raphael. Wayne Kirby, Leonard Knear and Merle McGinniss were decorated by the St. Raphael Veterans Association. "Taps" and the French and US National Anthems were played. The Mayor of Saint Raphael hosted a reception upon the conclusion reception where we enjoyed some very fine French champagne and food. After this beautiful ceremony and many conversations with our French friends we again boarded our bus to return to Nice and our wonderful party that evening.

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To contact the 36th Division Association
send email to rwellsbob@aol.com 
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