June 6, 1944 marked the largest military invasion in history by air, land and sea, when the brave men and women of the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in Operation Overlord. Code-named Operation Neptune but most widely known as D-Day, the operation reversed the course of World War II, breaking the Nazis’ grip on France and setting the stage for the liberation of Europe. It is a day that World War II veterans Ron Kimler and Greg Ellis Cunningham, whose service and sacrifice were celebrated during the 2019 Dominion Energy Charity Classic, will never forget.
As part of the tournament’s week-long series of military outreach and appreciation activities at the Country Club of Virginia, Kimler and Cunningham were honored during a military appreciation day ceremony presented by WestRock that commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The ceremony also included the presentation of the colors by the Naval Station Norfolk Color Guard; the singing of the national anthem by the University of Richmond Choir; an oath of enlistment ceremony for eight future soldiers from the greater Richmond, Virginia community administered by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Burgess, Commander of the U.S. Recruiting Battalion Richmond; and a concert by country music artist Chase Rice. Pete Durette, executive vice president of WestRock, and Mike Flanagan, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for Southern Virginia, also participated in the ceremony.
Kimler enlisted in the Army as a volunteer at the age of 18 in 1943, and received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in May 1944 after receiving his wings on the Republic P-47 fighter plane. He was assigned to the Ninth Air Force and became a member of the 366th Fighter Group and 389th Fighter Squadron. He entered the European combat zone in 1945 and was assigned to Base Y-29 at Asch, Belgium. He flew missions from January 1945 through May 1945, including the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany – the American Army crossing of the Rhine River. At the completion of World War II, Kimler had 38 completed missions as a Republic P-47 pilot.
Cunningham enlisted in the Navy Reserves as a student at the University of Kentucky when World War II began. He was called to active duty in 1943 and completed his officer training program at Columbia University before being assigned to landing ship Tank-989 as a gunnery officer and deploying to the Mediterranean in 1944. During his tenure, Cunningham made 41 trips across the Mediterranean between North Africa and Sicily, Italy, carrying troops, equipment and German prisoners. He earned two Battle Stars: One for Operation Brassard, the invasion of Elba, in June 1944 and the other for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, in August 1944. After World War II, Cunningham served on several other ships and eventually returned to Kentucky to finish his degree. He then obtained a Master’s degree from Ohio State University.
In addition to Friday’s military appreciation ceremony and concert, other military appreciation activities included an opportunity for active duty military members from local bases to caddie for PGA TOUR Champions players as part of the Military Caddie Program sponsored by WestRock; and the Callaway Warrior Club Fitting Program, where Purple Heart recipient James McGuire (U.S. Army) and wounded hero William Hayes (U.S. Navy) enjoyed the unique opportunity to be fitted with their own set of custom golf clubs. The warriors also had the opportunity to get some tips on the practice facility and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Callaway equipment truck, where they learned about the process involved in fitting PGA TOUR players for clubs on-site during PGA TOUR tournaments.
The Dominion Energy Charity Classic would like to extend its heartfelt gratitude to WestRock for making its military appreciation programs possible, as well as to all military members, veterans and their families for their service to our country.
For more information about Birdies for the Brave, please visit www.birdiesforthebrave.org.