The National D-Day Memorial
This past Sunday marked the 77th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of occupied Europe at Normandy, France during World War II. Volumes and volumes have been written about this operation, code-named Overlord, the largest air, land, and sea invasion in the history of the world. I won’t add anything new to that discussion today. While there is more to say about it, I’ll leave that to others who have studied and thought about it at length. Today, I’d rather introduce all my readers to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The stunning memorial is less than forty miles from our home in the Roanoke Valley, and I’m grateful it’s close enough for us to visit occasionally. Just north of Highway 460 on the western edge of Bedford, it spans over fifty beautifully landscaped acres and offers a solemn space to learn about and contemplate what happened on the beaches of Normandy on 6 June 1944.
Bedford was chosen as the site for this memorial because the town lost more men per capita on D-Day than any other town in America. Nineteen of its sons, all members of Company A, 116th Infantry, 29th Division, were killed on June 6th, and two more died of their wounds during the Normandy campaign. Additionally, two Bedford soldiers died who were assigned to other companies in the 116th. In 1944, there were about 3,200 people living in Bedford. Everyone knew everyone; everyone knew the men who died. The impact of D-Day on many communities across America was substantial, but it was especially difficult for the folks in Bedford. For some, I imagine it still is.
If it is possible to credit one person for the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, it would have be Bob Slaughter, a D-Day veteran from Roanoke. A nineteen-year-old squad leader in Company D of the 116th, Bob was part of the third wave of troops who came ashore at Omaha Beach. For the next eleven months, he continued fighting his way through Normandy and beyond, helping to liberate towns and villages along the way. He was wounded twice but recovered sufficiently enough to return to the front both times.
The idea for a memorial first came to Bob in 1987. He’d hidden away his wartime memories for over forty years, but a conversation with a co-worker at The Roanoke Times one afternoon helped unlock what he’d forgotten (or tried to forget). Promoting the memorial idea became his passion, and he spent endless hours (days/weeks/months) trying to infect others with that passion. Eventually, a foundation was formed, and in 1994, the hilltop site was selected for the memorial. Ground was broken, and on 6 June 2001, twenty years ago this week, the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated by President George W. Bush, with over 24,000 people in attendance at the ceremony.
Joe and I began to follow the memorial’s progress after we visited Normandy in 1996 the first time. (We returned there with my brother Chris in 2001, just a few weeks before the memorial's dedication.) After my dad died in December 2007, I sent a contribution to the memorial in his memory. A few months later, a tree was dedicated in honor of his World War II and Korean War service. It’s near the bust of Winston Churchill if you’d like to take a look when you stop by the memorial.
Please consider visiting the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford (www.dday.org). They're open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and tickets can be purchased when you arrive or online in advance. The memorial's permanent staff and volunteers are dedicated to honoring the fallen men and women who have given their lives for the cause of freedom. They deserve our thanks and our support.
If you’d like to learn more about Bedford’s contribution to the war effort, I highly recommend The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice by English journalist and best-selling author Alex Kershaw. Also, Bob Slaughter’s memoir, Omaha Beach & Beyond: The Long March of Sgt. Bob Slaughter, is also an excellent read.
Blessings to all.
Sally Jameson Bond is retired and lives in Southwest Virginia with her husband and two dogs. My Mother’s Friend is her first novel. You can find her web site here: www.sallyjamesonbond.com.