National D Day Memorial (Bedford, Virginia)
“57 years ago, America and the nations of Europe formed a bond that has never been broken. And all of us incurred a debt that can never be repaid. Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world.”- President George W Bush at dedication, June 6, 2001
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Just under 4 hours from Washington DC & its abundance of national monuments stands the National D Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Bedford seems a random choice for Congress to appoint as the national memorial until you learn the town suffered the nation’s highest losses per capita during the D Day invasion.
D Day & WWII
3 years into WWII, Hitler’s Nazi Germany occupied much of continental Europe, though its hold was starting to weaken. On June 6th, 1944, in a pivotal, tide-changing battle, the Allies invaded the French coastline storming 5 Normandy beaches to repel the German army back and try to gain ground towards victory. D Day was invasion day of a 2 month Battle of Normandy (France) to root out the Nazis.
The codename for the invasion, Operation Overlord, is, still today, the largest air, land, and sea operation ever undertaken. The landing included over 5,000 ships, 11,000 planes, & over 156,000 Allied troops. When the boat ramps lowered, thousands of men spilled out into the churning water. They were boys, really, most less than 20 years old. A lot of them, their 1st time away from home, and Mom & Dad. As they jumped with the rush forward, they swam then they slogged through the rough surf. Fully dressed with boots, up to 100 pounds of equipment on their backs, some drowned, but for the ones who made it out of the water, that was the easy part. Because as they made their swim, then run, some falling and crawling across the beach, they did so under a hail of Nazi Hellfire. Land mines exploded around them, 4 million were planted on the beaches. A heavy blanket of rapid machine gun-fire, artillery rounds, whizzing, pinging, exploding, blasting… then screams. The smell of smoke and blood. The thunderous assault rained down from the cliffs over-head where the Nazis were embedded from the protection of concrete bunkers.
Those Allied boys pushed forward, crawling and falling and bleeding and dodging around and over their friends as so many fell bloody around them. Their orders were to head straight for the enemy fire and scramble up the cliffs after them. But first, they had to survive the 200 yards of beach before they reach the seawall for some bit of protection.
It was never going to be easy. The losses in such a short time were staggering. When it was over, more than 4,400 Allied were dead, thousands more wounded or missing. Yet, German casualties were as much or even double, and Hitler’s ‘Fortress Europe’, the Western Front, had finally been cracked open. Paris was liberated 2 months later and through the efforts of all of the Allies, Germany surrendered less than a year after D Day.
The Bedford Boys
Bedford, Virginia sent 30 from their National Guard to D Day and by the end of that 1st day of invasion, 19 of their boys were dead. The 30 sent included 3 sets of brothers, 1 a set of twins. 2 pair lost 1 brother, the 3rd lost both. 19 gone in a single day, 4 more died in the Normandy campaign, alone. A staggering hit to the population of 3,200 in little Bedford. There was no one in that town not affected. The town grieved, as did other towns around the world. The Academy Award winner, Saving Private Ryan, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks & Matt Damon, was partly influenced by the Bedford boys. It has an incredible portrayal of the D Day invasion & from what I’ve read, according to many vets, perhaps the most realistic cinematic version.
On 88 acres, resting in the heart of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, is perhaps the most elaborate of all the national monuments. Every detail, every placement, every little nuance has carefully planned, symbolic meaning to relay the story and honor the men who lived it. To fully appreciate the powerful and meaningful tribute, a guided tour is included with admission which gives the whole site and its details context and absolutely should not be missed. Many of the tour guides are vets of other wars, themselves. The context, detail & passion they pour into the message & tour is a can’t miss and if you don’t have time, skip the memorial and find a day that you do. It’s that powerful, making the memorial that much more impressive. To try to revisit all of the little details here wouldn’t do it justice and is best heard as you experience the full scene.
The Bedford site deemed the national memorial has an international scope, honoring not only the US soldiers, but the entire Allied forces in the invasion of Normandy. It includes the names of the 4,413 Allied soldiers who died in the invasion, the most complete list of its kind in the world. Plaques identify each division involved & their contribution. Each country is represented with their native flag for each of those 12 Allied countries involved in the D Day invasion:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
Greeting you are a number of sculptures within Victory Plaza. The sculptures throughout are stunning. One is a gift, a recasting of Le Monument aux Mortsa sculpture that sits in Trévières, France. The original was dedicated to the town after their WWI losses, only to be damaged just over 20 years later in the throes of WWII. Half its face torn off from battles with the Nazis, a good example of the destructiveness of war, even in the lap of residential hometowns, and a reminder of the fragility of peace.
The memorial contains some artifacts, including a WWII restored Aeronca L-3 plane.
Overlord Arch, named for the codename of the invasion, Operation Overlord, is the centerpiece of the memorial. At 44 feet high, it stands as a triumph of victory above the scenes of planning and battle beyond.
The monument is sprawling, encompassing 3 vital phases of D Day, each complete enough to be a memorial on their own.
- The formal, English Garden, Reynolds Garden, is a nod to the pre-planning phase of the operation the Allies conducted in England. The peaceful quiet, reminiscent of the calm before the battle. Each component, shape or position within the garden is symbolic and pointed out on the tour. A memorial for the Supreme Commander of the operation, General & future US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower sits in the center. He stands below a ceiling of the D Day battle map & at his sides are his 6 Allied commanding lieutenants involved with the invasion.
2. Next, the central plaza & invasion tableau represent the landing. Segmented into 5 and inscribed with the names of the 5 Normandy beaches invaded that day. Beyond lies a landing ship ramp leading into the reflecting pool with hints of the brutal beach scenes from that day.
- A group scrambles up the wall of the plaza just as the US Rangers scaled 100 foot beach cliffs at Pointe du Hoc & references the Allies breaking through Hitler’s “impregnable” ‘Fortress Europe’. The cluster of boys climbed, then and here, toward the enemy and, ultimately, victory. They represent the qualities that define those involved in D Day. ‘Valor, fidelity and sacrifice’, a re-occurring theme honored throughout the memorial. Giving a nod to the courageous rush of heroism and patriotism that led all those boys, from all those countries to put their lives on the line, or give it, so that another country & the world might be free of the claws of this tyranny. Fittingly, the Overlord Arch overhead, standing in ‘Victory Plaza’, symbolizes that victory achieved.
That rush might be considered suicide looking back at it, today, but when all else fails, sometimes the darkness can’t be conquered without some sacrifice & heart. Memorials like this remind us so that we never take their sacrifice, their struggle, our freedom for granted. These boys, the ones who lived and the ones who never made it home… they had parents and wives, sons & daughters, but they belong to each of our nations, too. Our boys left their innocence, sometimes their sanity, & some their lives on those blood-soaked beaches oversea. But, imagine the horrors compounded, changing history, warping today, had no one taken a stand. We visit & appreciate war memorials as a tiny measure of our thanks, to honor and remember their bravery & sacrifice for saving the whole world from a growing darkness. I thank them & thank God for the freedom that many of us are blessed to enjoy, today.
Good to Know:
- Stop at the Bedford Welcome Center, just at the entrance, to purchase admission & schedule a guided tour. 816 Burks Hill Rd, Bedford, Va.
- There is a small Gift Shop available in the Welcome Center.
- Sidewalks are ramped and easily accessible for wheelchairs & strollers. Shuttle carts are an additional fee and limited to the disabled, though not always available. Wheelchairs are limited & free to use- 1st come, 1st serve.
- No restaurant or food is available on site, though the town has a number of local & chain restaurants.
The National D Day Memorial is privately funded, relying on donations, admission & the support of the not-for-profit Memorial Foundation.
- Admission: $10.00 adult, $8.00 Veterans or current active duty military, and Students 6-18 (or with college id)- $6.00. Kids under 6 free. Explain to little ones this is a reverent site.
- Complimentary guided walking tours are included with cost of admission. Scheduled daily from 10a-4p, ask for next available when purchasing tickets at the Welcome Center. They are approximately 1 hour long. Make the time to attend this. The Memorial is deeply steeped in symbolism, every single feature has a meaning behind it that makes this site even more compelling.
- Open daily from 10-5p with Monday closings in December- February & holidays- Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s. Operation of the water in the reflecting pool can be seasonally affected. Visiting the site will take about 1 1/2- 2 hours with tour.
- Pets- The central features within the Memorial are off limits to pets, HOWEVER, they have a limited number of animal crates in a shaded kennel area that can be arranged at the ticket site, based on availability.
- They have an app available for your phone.
The National D Day Memorial is located at 3 Overlord Circle, Bedford, Virginia
For History lovers & patriots, this is a Must See Gem!
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“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.’
‘Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.’
‘The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”
– General Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Allied troops the night before the D Day invasion
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