Guardsman won't forget his journey to Normandy

June 09, 1994|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Staff Writer

William Ziegler is only 23, but he says the events he witnessed in recent days made him feel he was reliving the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy.

Specialist Ziegler of the Maryland National Guard was there, representing one of the units that fought there on D-Day. He returned yesterday to the Pikesville Armory from France where he was one of 40 volunteers of the 3rd Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division of the Maryland National Guard chosen to represent the unit during the weeklong ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The 29th Division was the only National Guard unit to participate the Allied invasion that led to an end of the war in Europe the next year.

While in Normandy, the guardsmen participated in several D-Day commemoration ceremonies, including remembering those who died on Omaha Beach and those soldiers buried in the American cemetery at St. James.

For Specialist Ziegler, of Hanover, the opportunity to visit a major turning point of World War II held even more significance because his maternal grandfather and two of his mother's uncles fought at Normandy. All survived. "It's almost hard to comprehend what happened there 50 years ago," he said. "You see the pictures, but to be there where it all took place. . . . It's hard to put into words." Specialist Ziegler, who works for United Parcel Service in Laurel, said he realized how fortunate his grandfather and great-uncles were after listening to one veteran's story.

"He told me that he lost three brothers right on that very beach where we were standing," Specialist Ziegler said. "Standing on the same beach where thousands and thousands of men stood, who knows where we would be today if they hadn't stopped Hitler? You and I might not be here today."

The bridge between what was and what is: That is what Specialist Ziegler's commanding officer, Col. H. Steven Blum, said he had in mind when he sent the young soldiers to Normandy. Colonel Blum greeted the returning troops yesterday at the armory.

"We want to link the present and the past," Colonel Blum said. "This is not a high-tech unit. This is all follow-me leadership. It's all about heart and confidence, and when you have the perspective of what those men went through and what sacrifices they made -- average guys doing spectacular feats -- that can't help but bolster your guys into realizing that they have to do their mission well."

For Sgt. Vernon Grier, 31, of Glen Burnie, the opportunity to see where American troops fought for freedom gives him the chance to pass along something to those soldiers who serve under him.

"There's a lot more to leadership than just instructing people what to do," Sergeant Grier said. "There's a wealth of knowledge out there that these guys aren't getting. . . . It was a chance for me to go over with some old veterans and share their experiences and take back some memories to give to the men."

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