By Woodrow Polston
In the pre-dawn hours of last Thursday, retired Msgt. Ray Bumbales performed his second annual memorial ruck in honor of the soldiers who lost their lives during Exercise Tiger.
The exercise, also known as Operation Tiger, occurred in the early morning hours of April 28, 1944, when an elite unit of the Nazi navy launched a torpedo attack on a convoy of ships that they encountered by chance. The 8-day exercise was in it’s sixth day when the surprise attack happened on Slapton Sands, in Southeast England. Bumbales, who now serves as the chief of police in Farber, Mo., said that he begins the 14-mile ruck along WWII Exercise Tiger Expressway at 2:01 a.m. to pay tribute to the 201 Missouri soldiers who lost their lives during the exercise.
At noon, a memorial ceremony was conducted at the Audrain County Courthouse in Mexico. Walter Domanski, executive officer of the U.S. Tiger Foundation, gave the opening remarks.
“This is part of a national campaign to honor those who lost their lives,” said Domanski. “Gov. Parson has declared today Exercise Tiger Day in Audrain County. Today is the day to remember those who died during Exercise Tiger 78 years ago,” he added. Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Alan Winders was next to speak.
“It is always humbling, and it is such an honor to have this wreath laying ceremony here,” said Winders. “It is always humbling to be able to address a group that has personal connections to the service and the sacrifices made by our servicemen. This ceremony represents some of the ultimate sacrifices that are made,” he added.
Commissioner Leslie Meyer read a proclamation for the ceremony.
Retired MSgt. Rennie Davis, U. S. Army National Guard, along with his family, spoke about his uncle, Lowell Renner, who was killed in action during Exercise Tiger. After speaking, they received achievement awards. Charles Fry of Mexico, whose father is on the World War II memorial, was also present for the ceremony. He was a 2nd lieutenant who served in Vietnam and was given an achievement award during the ceremony, as well.
A statement from the Secretary of the Navy was read by Domanski after the achievement awards were handed out.
“78 years ago, 551 soldiers and 198 sailors lost their lives in combat while preparing for the Normandy invasion. Today, this annual national tribute takes on a new significance as the world watches the turmoil between Ukraine and Russia,” said Domanski.
A final roll call was given with a U. S. Navy Bell Toll performed by Petty Officer 1st Class Fields, U. S. Navy. The rollcall included LST’s of Taffy 4, six Audrain County soldiers, a bell toll for the 36th Marine Separate Brigade at Mariupol, and for all Ukrainians in harm’s way. The ceremonial wreath, along with a special wreath honoring Ukraine was placed outside the courthouse next to the Exercise Tiger Army and Navy Anchor Memorial.
According to their website, the U.S. Exercise Tiger Foundation mission is to provide, coordinate, and develop annual ceremonies honoring veterans, active military, students, citizens and communities deserving recognition for their patriotic or positive actions affecting U.S. society. Since 1989, the “Tiger” Association has become one of the nation’s premier foundations in America that honors veterans of all wars, especially those of Korea and Vietnam. The Tiger Foundation and its chapters are named in memory of the battle of “Exercise Tiger” in World War II and annually recognize this historic army and navy exercise and the men who took part in it. The Foundation is constantly working towards the goal of making the words “Exercise Tiger” synonymous with recognition of forgotten veterans.