There is perhaps no better example of the heroism of the "Greatest Generation" than D-Day – June 6, 1944 – when the Allied forces from the U.S., Britain, Canada, France and eight other nations stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi domination in Europe.
This crucial moment in history is memorialized in the small American town of Bedford, Virginia, which sacrificed many of its sons in that effort. Seeing this moving tribute to the troops who participated in the largest invasion in history is certainly worth the effort to get there.
The monument’s location makes it even more compelling than memorials in Washington, D.C., and other large cities. Tiny Bedford, in the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was chosen as the site of the National D-Day Memorial because it suffered, per capita, the highest loss of life of any U.S. community on the day the troops stormed the coast of France.
Nineteen servicemen from Bedford gave their lives in the first minutes of the battle at Omaha Beach, and two more were killed in the fighting beyond the beachhead in the ensuing days – this out of a town that had only 3,200 people.
To honor that sacrifice, the United States Congress designated Bedford for the memorial in 1997. The 88-acre site was dedicated by President George W. Bush on June 6, 2001.
Tours of the complex start at the English Garden, representing the planning of the operation, which took place in England. The garden is in the shape of a sword, recalling the shoulder patch that signified the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force.
At the end of the garden is a dome housing a heroic statue of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe. The words of Eisenhower’s order of the day to the troops are rendered in bronze on the garden’s wall.
Beyond the garden is a plaza that represents the English Channel and the beachheads at Normandy. There, visitors can see a re-creation of a D-Day landing craft and life-size bronze soldiers depicted in various stages of the assault. The memorial also includes a pool with obstacles and jets of water symbolizing the mines and gunfire directed at the troops. The sculpture groupings honor all the Allied troops of that battle, especially the 4,391 who died that day (2,477 of them American).
Surrounding the tableaux are two walls with 200 bronze plaques listing the names of the soldiers who died in the assault. There are also tributes to the air and naval forces that played key roles in supporting the action.
Rising over the depiction of the attack is the triumphal Overlord Arch, commemorating Operation Overlord, the code name for the invasion. The plaza contains the flags of the 12 Allied nations that provided forces on D-Day.
June 6, 2013 is the 69th Anniversary of D-Day. Visitors to the memorial can observe the anniversary at a place where valor, fidelity, and sacrifice are honored throughout the year, paying tribute to those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy and honoring those veterans who lived to fight another day. There will be a ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial including special music and speakers. Tours will be provided throughout the day, and admission is free the first hour, from 11 AM until noon.
The National D-Day Memorial is located at 3 Overlord Circle, Bedford, Virginia, phone 540-586-3329. For more information on the memorial, visit its web site, www.dday.org.
Bedford County, Virginia, has initiated a joint admission ticket to both The National D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson’s nearby summer retreat, Poplar Forest. The ticket costs $17 and is good for one year and includes discounts to both gift shops as well as to the gift shop at the Bedford Area Welcome Center. For more information on Bedford County, visit http://www.visitbedford.com. Enjoy!