National Vietnam War Tribute Joins U.S. Exercise Tiger Tribute in Barnegat Light

By MARIA SCANDALE | May 24, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Memorial Day came early to LBI when veterans from the Vietnam War and other conflicts were honored last month in Barnegat Light along with the World War II veterans of Exercise Tiger, a secret rehearsal for D-Day that German U-boats hit upon and sabotaged.

Anyone sitting in the audience 73 years later learned that the deaths of these 749 U.S. Army and Navy personnel off the English coast April 28, 1944 were not in vain. Lessons were learned that spared other lives when the actual D-Day invasion at Normandy did take place five weeks later.

The tribute by the United States Exercise Tiger Foundation is in its 28th year, but the addition of a Vietnam veterans tribute is newer. It began on a smaller scale last year, then this year more came forth to be recognized – 30 veterans of that war.

Called by name, they each received a Medallion of Combat Valor and accompanying citation presented by an Army colonel from the Pentagon, Lt. Col. Scott Preston on behalf of the secretary of the Army.

It was part of the foundation’s new “ongoing tribute to honor Vietnam veterans as part of our commemorative partnership with the Department of Defense,” said Susan Haines, foundation national executive director. The years 2012-2025 are encompassed in a 50-year anniversary observance of the Vietnam War.

Asked after the ceremony what the recognition meant to him, one Vietnam veteran from Middletown, Guy Opie, asked citizens to “just respect, and thank a veteran.”

“We learned our lesson, that freedom is not free, a price has to be paid,” he said. The ceremony was a  positive one “for everybody, for all branches and for all eras,” he said.

Held in an open-air hall at Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light, the 28th Annual Battle of Exercise Tiger National Tribute also included a wreath laying in Barnegat Inlet that coincided with 15 others at Coast Guard stations from Massachusetts to Washington State. This year broke a record for the Coast Guard’s longest uninterrupted wreath-laying tribute, wrote the secretary of the Navy in a proclamation.

The common theme of the program was “When Courage Counted Most.”

The Exercise Tiger Foundation has successfully set out to tell the history of what is now being called one of the most gallant exercises of World War II.

It was noted that “the men of Tiger share a similar fate with Vietnam War veterans, they too, were overlooked until some years later.”

“They answered the call of duty and put service before self,” said Coast Guard Capt. Benjamin Cooper, of Sector Delaware Bay. “That service before self is the same spirit we celebrate today with all of our Vietnam War veterans. Thank you for your service. As a nation, we did not thank you appropriately before. I’m hopeful that a token of thank you today is not too little, too late.”

Courage was defined as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear.”

Said Cooper, the men preparing for D-Day, who had grown up in the hardship of the Great Depression, “summoned that courage on the morning of April 28, 1944 as they were preparing for the D-Day landing ... and U-boats by chance stumbled across that convoy.

“That was a Friday morning, the seas were cold. The men were preparing to storm the beach, wearing very heavy gear. And when those LSTs (tank landing ships) were attacked ... there was no one there to rescue them.

“One of the lessons learned from that was to make sure we had small boats right alongside to effect a rescue,” Cooper said.

“Only 248 bodies were recovered; there were 500 families that did not have closure ... it’s a terrible thing to suffer a loss like that.”

Five weeks later, allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy “and began the process of freeing Europe,” he stated.

Another result of Exercise Tiger is that “radio frequencies were standardized,” Cooper added. Escorts to the convoy “were on the wrong frequency; they didn’t know the attack was happening.”

A similar problem hampered response to 9/11 when “fire and police were on different frequencies,” he noted.

Yet another improvement: “They needed better life vests and needed better training for what to do “in case something happens.”

On Utah Beach itself in the actual Normandy invasion, less than 200 people died.

The ceremony continued for more than two hours with a host of U.S. military dignitaries and elected officials. Medals were also awarded to veterans of the Korean War, Cold War, Desert Storm, Iraqi War on Terrorism and Afghanistan War on Terrorism. The N.J. Submarine Association was recognized.

Among the speakers were state Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove with special state resolutions for each veteran. Congressman Frank LoBiondo was given the Congressman of the Year Award.

The Tom Oakley Service Award was among those given for the first time. It is named for the late G. Thomas Oakley, a World War II veteran, former Ship Bottom councilman and community leader.

It was granted to Ship Bottom Police Officer Ron Holloway, whose kindness made national news as he granted the wish of a dying woman, Patricia Kelly, to see the beach one more time.

Ocean County freeholders noted that the service also honored Petty Officer Tom Glynn, U.S. Navy, one of the last surviving New Jersey veterans of Exercise Tiger, and USCG Petty Office Nathan Bruckenthal, who was killed in combat guarding the waters off Iraq in 2004, the first member of the Coast Guard force to give his life in war since Vietnam.

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

 

 

 

(Photo by: Ryan Morrill)
(Photo by: Ryan Morrill)
(Photo by: Ryan Morrill)
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