FAIRFIELD, NJ — In a tribute to veterans, Fairfield Police Chief Anthony Manna shared a recent experience when he joined 15 law-enforcement executives from New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut in Normandy France.

The April 23 trip was conducted by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police as part of its noteworthy leadership staff ride training.

In visiting the beaches of the D-Day invasion, the group was encouraged to consider how many of the leadership qualities and decisions made by Allied leaders in that operation could be applied to the daily strategic decisions made by law enforcement executives.

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Chief Manna shared his experiences in the following tribute to veterans:

"The group of law-enforcement executives that went on this trip are all seasoned police veterans with a great deal of leadership experience. From the outset, we collectively knew we would surely bring back some concepts that would assist us in our duties. But what followed during our few days at Normandy went far beyond that.

It did help to reinforce the concept that leadership is not obtained through status or rank. Instead, leadership is an intrinsic quality that comes out through an individual’s actions, deeds and sacrifices. There were so many stories of common soldiers doing incredible things, which also reinforced the concept that you don’t have to be in charge to be a leader.

In order to better help us experience what occurred in France in June of 1944, our instructors provided each of us with a set of commemorative dog tags. One had our own name and police department on them and the other had the name and military assignment of an actual New Jersey soldier who fought in the Normandy campaign.

Mine happened to be Corporal William Falduti of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The nexus of this concept was to link us to a specific individual while we walked in their footsteps. The culmination would come on our last day there, when we would visit the American cemetery and find out whether or not they survived the invasion.

Before doing that, we visited a number of historical sites in the area including the five beaches used by the Allied forces for their landings. As we ventured onto each beach, I collected a sand sample for both me and as a gift to our Fairfield VFW post. After all, this is sacred ground to any freedom-loving individual anywhere in the world.

At Omaha Beach, the site of the worst American casualties, I felt compelled to leave something behind, so I buried a Fairfield Police Department patch in the sand as a small gesture of our department’s appreciation.

We went on to tour the museum at Pegasus Bridge, another site where many extraordinary acts of valor and sacrifice took place by our British allies. While there, we were fortunate enough to meet an individual named Teddy, a 92-year-old veteran of the Royal British Marines who had landed on Sword Beach 71 years earlier.

[Teddy] proudly wore a row of combat ribbons that were definitely well earned. He had been wounded three times in World War II during three separate campaigns, one of which involved him being shot in the neck.

Teddy was a proud veteran who recounted his wartime activities to us, even adding some humor when speaking about his injuries. The friends who were accompanying him on his trip jokingly said that when they go back to visit Sword Beach, they always stay a few paces away from him just in case someone takes a shot at him again.

As we were concluding our time with Teddy, I noticed a group of school children approaching him in the same inquisitive manner and reverence we did, which really was pleasing to see.

Just before taking leave of Teddy, he said something to the children that resonates well with police officers: He said that each time he sees children, he realizes why he did what he did and how important it was to preserve their future.

In that moment, I learned all I needed to about leadership.

Day three was now upon us and it was time to visit the American cemetery just above Omaha Beach and to finally find out the fate of our individual soldiers. The feeling of anticipation and emotion was unbelievable given the fact that we did not even know this soldier but we had somehow along the way become connected.

I am happy and relieved to say that Corporal William Falduti, of Nutley, N.J. survived the Normandy invasion and World War II and went on to perform other acts of valor during the war, including receiving two purple hearts and a bronze star.

But this was not the case for many of the soldiers my colleagues had. Out of the sixteen soldiers we were given, only six survived. In honor and respect for these soldiers and their sacrifices, the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police placed American flags on each of their graves.

As we left the cemetery and I had an opportunity to reflect on my entire Normandy experience, I recalled a phrase I had heard once in support of all soldiers, especially those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.

'All gave some, some gave all,' which sums up very well what occurred in Normandy and everywhere else American forces have fought and died.

Upon my return to the United States, it was my great pleasure to go to Nutley and meet Mr. Falduti and to personally thank him for his service. He was everything I thought he would be and more.

He recounted, in great detail, his Normandy experience including the evening when the First and Third armies were united and he had a few drinks with General George S. Patton and fighting at the Battle of the Bulge. It was such an honor just being in the same room with him. Mr. Falduti also was the epitome of what is arguably the 'Greatest Generation.' 

Before I left, I gave him a bottle of sand from Omaha Beach.

Unfortunately, only four days after meeting Mr. Falduti, he passed away. I was completely shocked and upset by this. I had only met him for a half hour or so, but I felt like I knew him my whole life.

Some relief for me came in knowing that I got to thank him personally for all he did and to hear a few of his great stories. I felt even better when I was told by Steve Rodgers, the Nutley Commissioner for Veterans Affairs that Mr. Falduti was happy that we met and was talking about it right up until his death.

Due to the ages of heroes like Mr. Falduti, and so many other veterans, the window of opportunity for us to receive first hand accounts of their heroics or to personally extend our gratitude to all those who played such a significant role in preserving our freedom in World War II and beyond, is closing fast.

It is my hope that the retelling of my Normandy experience will do something to help lead all of our citizens in seeking out a veteran and thanking them for their service. It doesn’t take much to do but will certainly go a long way. I also hope it does something to regenerate a greater sense of patriotism, pride, and gratitude amongst our citizens, for our country, and for the sacrifices made by so many to keep all of us safe and free.

The officers of the Fairfield Police Department salute all veterans of the armed forces of the United States of America and thank you for your service, especially William Falduti."