NEW BEDFORD — The invasion of Europe by allied forces during World War II is not only one of the most significant events of that war, but in all of history. Within the story of Operation Overlord countless other accounts of heroism and fate exist.

At the Fort Rodman - Fort Taber Military Museum on Saturday a memorial ceremony was held in honor of the service members who perished in Exercise Tiger on April 28, 1944. The ceremony saw multiple local politicians, community leaders, and military veterans in attendance and honored survivors as well as those killed during the incident.

The honored guest, 95-year-old WWII veteran and Exercise Tiger survivor Vincent Riccardi, one of the few remaining local participants in Exercise Tiger, led the ceremonial wreath laying at the tank monument honoring those lost in the training disaster.

“I feel one day older, and I'm working on the next,” Riccardi said with a laugh. “I approve of what they've done here today. It brought to mind what a lot of people didn't know about.”

Vincent Riccardi. Matt Costa/Townsquare Media
Vincent Riccardi. Matt Costa/Townsquare Media

Operation Overlord, the codename used by the allies for the Battle of Normandy, was and still is the largest land invasion ever undertaken. It was also one of the most top priority and top secret operations of the entire war, and certainly the most crucial of the European Theater.

The success of Operation Overlord was so crucial to the retaking of Europe from Nazi-Germany that major and unprecedented steps were taken to ensure its secrecy.

In April of 1944, just two months before the famous D-Day landings on Normandy beaches on June 6 of that year, the Allies were conducting the final rehearsals for the invasion in what was codenamed Exercise Tiger. However this was not an ordinary rehearsal, this was one that included live ammunition and realistic battle scenarios to prepare the troops as much as possible for the invasion.

In a horrifying turn of events, the training exercise turned fatal. Coordination and communication problems during the exercise resulted in friendly fire deaths, followed by an attack by German E-Boats, resulting in the deaths 198 sailors and 551 soldiers, totaling 749 American Servicemen. It was the deadliest and costliest training exercise of the war.

“I wasn't confused but I knew something was wrong once we got turned around. I figured it was some sort of mistake along the line but didn't know what it was,” recalled Riccardi.

Because of the incredible importance of the impending invasion, the incident was ordered under the strictest secrecy by the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe General Dwight Eisenhower. In fact, the exercise didn't receive any public light until 1971.

“I was sworn to secrecy when it happened. I never told my wife, my children never knew it happened. In the 1970's is when I finally spilled it out to people,” Riccardi explained. “People always asked me 'why did you ever keep it a secret?' and I told them 'because I was told to'."

Col. Kevin Golinghorst from the United States Naval War College was the guest speaker for the ceremony and noted the ceremonies taking place across the country in honor of Exercise Tiger, including one at the National Exercise Tiger Foundation in his home state of Missouri.

“Thankfully there are other ceremonies across the country. This is very special knowing that this tank faces east as the tank in Slapdon Sands, England faces west, so there's a very special location and connection to the monuments,” Golinghorst said. “On both coasts, out in California and then down in New Jersey there are ceremonies being held by the Coast Guard as well as Coast Guard Cutter off the coast of Cape May is laying a ceremonial wreath today to honor those fallen.”

At the end of the ceremony, Mayor Jon Mitchell presented a proclamation to Riccardi that April 28 is to be officially known as Exercise Tiger Day in New Bedford. Riccardi was also awarded an honorary coin by the City Council.

The ceremony was sponsored by the City of New Bedford and Veterans Advisory Board. It featured reenactors from Yankee Division, the United States Brotherhood of Tankers and the Marine Core.

The Veterans Advisory Board also remembered the many WWII veterans who worked to create New Bedford's Exercise Tiger memorial and led the effort to relocate it to the Fort Taber Fort Rodman Military Museum at Fort Taber Park - Joseph Theodore, Jamye Rego, Norman Chartier, Robert Fredericks and John Sarkes.

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