City Remembers Lives Lost During WWII Exercise Tiger [PHOTOS]
Dozens gathered at Fort Taber Military Park in New Bedford's south end Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to the 749 American soldiers and sailors lost at sea during Exercise Tiger nearly 72 years ago.
While training for the legendary D-Day invasion on Normandy, France in the early morning of April 28, 1944, the servicemen were attacked and two Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) were sunk and two others damaged.
New Bedford is home to one of two memorials dedicated to the events, and the significance is not lost on fellow veterans.
Army veteran and New Bedford Veterans' Agent Chris Gomes said memorials and ceremonies play a key role in keeping these stories alive.
"People only die when people are forgotten about," Gomes said. "As long as we keep having events like this and keep having ceremonies that remember the veterans and remember the events that happened, they keep living and they keep teaching us how to go forward."
Keynote speaker Lieutenant Colonel Geoffery Love of the Massachusetts Army National Guard also offered his thanks for the city's monument.
"I say well done New Bedford. You've chosen to preserve the memory of a group of nearly forgotten heroes whose death was clouded in secrecy and whose contributions were long overlooked," Lt. Col. Love said. "That's a noble endeavor."
The M4 Sherman tank at Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Park mirrors the memorial erected at Slapton Sands, Devon, England. The tragic events took place just off its coast.
One of the last surviving local participants of Exercise Tiger, Vincent Ricciardi, 92, was honored and laid a wreath in front of the memorial for his fallen brothers.
Also speaking during the ceremony was Navy veteran George Mendonsa of Middletown, RI. Mendonsa served on the USS Sullivans, but is best know as the "kissing sailor" in Alfred Eisenstaedt's photo in Times Square on VJ Day 1945.
He spoke about his service during the war and what prompted that infamous photo.
While on a date to New York City with the woman that would become his wife, the two got word that the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. There was hysteria throughout the city, and they went out into the streets to celebrate with the others.
Months earlier while on the USS Sullivans, Mendonsa witness the hard work and bravery exhibited by the nurses of the hospital ships after an attack and had never forgotten that feeling. When he saw a nurse in Times Square, he knew just how to say thank you.
"I remembered what those nurses did that day on the (USS) Bunker Hill a few months earlier, so I saw the nurse...I grabbed her. And that was it!" said Mendonsa.
He said his wife is asked all the time if it bothered her that her date kissed a nurse on the street, but she had no problem at all.