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Members of the Fort Benning community came together with Australian army officers and their Families Friday to commemorate ANZAC Day.
ANZAC Day, named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, is a national day of remembrance in both Australia and New Zealand. It is observed every year on April 25, and was designated to honor the ANZAC soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. Today, it more broadly commemorates all who served in military operations in Australia and New Zealand.
"ANZAC Day is effectively the equivalent to America's Veterans Day and Memorial Day," said Lt. Col. David Heatley, the Australian liaison officer to the Maneuver Center of Excellence. "It's when the nation takes a day to stop, reflect, remember and give thanks to the military service that's happened in the past, the sacrifices that have been made and also give thanks to the current members as well."
Commemoration of ANZAC Day began on Fort Benning Thursday with a screening of the film Gallipoli before giving way to Friday's traditional gunfire breakfast, which is comprised of coffee and rum, and the dawn service.
"Every year, in Australia, New Zealand and around the world, we gather predawn to coincide with the same time as the landings of the troops in 1915," Heatley said. "We have our dawn service, say our prayers, remember, give thanks and then we go into a traditional ANZAC Day breakfast. ... The day then transitions from one of commemoration to one of celebration. The nation comes together, we have our military parades in our cities and our towns and we congregate as a community."
Five Australian families are stationed at Fort Benning, and Heatley said the Australian contingent was very grateful for the support the Fort Benning community had for the ANZAC Day events.
"To have the Fort Benning community come and support us on this day is incredibly moving and we are greatly appreciative of it," Heatley said. "We had such a good turnout this morning. People here have such good awareness of what ANZAC Day means to Australia and New Zealand. We really do thank our American friends and colleagues for taking the time to learn a bit about us. We really do appreciate it."
The dawn service was held at the 173rd Airborne Brigade memorial at the National Infantry Museum, which displays the badges of the Royal Australian Regiment and the Royal New Zealand Artillery. Those two ANZAC units fought as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade during a deployment to Bien Hoa, Vietnam, in 1965-66.
"It's just great to have the service here at this memorial because American, Australian and New Zealand Soldiers fought and died together in the same unit in Vietnam," Heatley said.