101st Airborne soldiers sing the Army song at the conclusion of a reenlistment ceremony for 21 soldiers of the division in Carentan, France, Friday, June 7, 2019.

101st Airborne soldiers sing the Army song at the conclusion of a reenlistment ceremony for 21 soldiers of the division in Carentan, France, Friday, June 7, 2019. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. It has been republished ahead of this year’s 80th anniversary.

CARENTAN, France — Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley swore in 21 reenlisting soldiers Friday from the 101st Airborne Division, joined by a 97-year-old former paratrooper who helped liberate this French city 75 years ago.

Milley addressed the troops and hundreds of local onlookers lined up along the street and leaning out of building windows to watch the soldiers take their oath on ground where their Screaming Eagle predecessors fought in the Battle of Carentan.

“It is an oath that these soldiers say — that they are willing to die to fulfill,” Milley said. “What they are really taking an oath to is an idea. Every single one of us is born free and equal.”

The Battle of Carentan, which involved six days of heavy fighting that began June 6, 1944, was crucial for the Allies who needed to liberate the crossroads town and the territory between Omaha and Utah beaches. The 101st Airborne suffered high casualties in the fight, which featured prominently in the “Band of Brothers” television series about the division’s Easy Company.

D-Day vet Tom Rice, who fought in the battle, greeted the young 101st soldiers to offer words of encouragement.

“He just told me that he loves the Army and seeing us younger guys coming up to continue things on,” said Sgt. Fernando Carbajal Montes, 24, who was promoted Friday by Milley. “My legs are shaking. It instills in me a lot of pride.”

Rice has caused a stir in Normandy. On Wednesday, he parachuted into Carentan, reliving the jump he did 75 years ago with the 101st Airborne Division.

“This is once-in-a-lifetime at my age,” Rice said. “It will never happen for me again.”

Before greeting soldiers and posing for pictures, he joked, “I’m a dead man walking.”

Thousands of U.S. soldiers have been on hand to mark this year’s D-Day events in Normandy. There is an awareness that D-Day vets, now well into their 90s, won’t be around for many more anniversaries. About 50 of them made the trip this year for the 75th anniversary.

For Spc. Leonardo Ramirez, 24, reenlisting in a place that is part of airborne lore gave him a connection to history. “It’s very special,” he said. “It means a lot to be here where previous U.S. soldiers were before us.”

Sgt. Nathanial Ladd, 23, said shaking hands with Rice and being part of the D-Day commemoration was “the most humbling experience of my lifetime.”

“Obviously I can’t fill the shoes of what the guys did here 75 years ago, but I am doing the best I can,” he said.

Milley said D-Day at 75 is a chance to remember the cost of war. It also has added relevance in an era when “great power competition” with countries like China and Russia are back to the strategic forefront for the United States.

“I think it is important that we recommit ourselves to deterring and preventing (a) great power war and in the event it does happen that we win it as quickly as possible with least cost to ourselves and friendly forces,” Milley said in an interview.

“We collectively have to remember the cost of conflict on the scale that occurred in World War II and World War I, really. They were part of the same geopolitical conflict that had been going on for 30 years,” Milley added.

“Remember what caused it, how it was won and commit ourselves to preventing it in the future.”

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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