If ever roadtrip through Western Virginia along the I-81 corridor, be sure to take some time to visit the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VIrginia.
Today marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. June 6, 1944 was the day in World War II when thousands of Allied troops landed on the harsh beaches of Normandy, France to begin taking Europe back from the Nazis. This massive undertaking, the largest invasion in history, involved over 150,000 troops, 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft, plus months of planning, preparation and secrecy. It also took immense bravery for young men, most between the ages of 18 and 25, to land on the now 5 famous beaches- Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword- to forge ahead under intense Axis gun fire and to climb the Normandy cliffs. Allied casualties were high, estimated in the 10,000 range, with over 4,400 dead in just the first day of fighting. These men fought for our freedom and way of life. We must never forget their dedication and sacrifice.
That being said, I encourage you to visit the National D-Day Memorial, tucked amongst the hills and mountains of Bedford, Virginia. I have been there many times. Each time, I am humbled, learn something new and come away with a feeling of peace. Many Veterans of all eras and operations, World War II to the present, have reported feeling a sense of calm and healing after visiting the Memorial.
The National D-Day Memorial was the vision of D-Day veteran, J. Robert “Bob” Slaughter. He was concerned that there were no national monuments recognizing the efforts and sacrifices of World War II GIs, let alone those who participated in D-Day. There were no central locations for World War II vets and their families to go to reflect and heal. In the mid-1990s he began lobbying for such a place to be built, and Bedford, Virginia was eventually selected as the final location for the D-Day Memorial. The massive undertaking was finally dedicated in 2001, and despite having approval from the U.S. Congress to build such a monument, the National D-Day Memorial was completely paid for by private funds and continues to operate solely on private donations.
As you tour through the Memorial, you are taken on a journey from the planning stages of what we now know as Operation Overlord. You come to better understand the strength it took to get through the months of immense preparations, from the gathering of Allied troops and supplies from 12 countries to the eventual crossing of the English Channel in harsh, rainy conditions on June 6, 1944. You symbolically experience the battle itself on the beaches and climb the cliffs of Normandy to a point of victory, remembrance, and reflection on all that was lost and all that was gained in the name of freedom.
The staff and volunteers have many stories of special moments at the Memorial. I remember the first time I toured the National D-Day Memorial. We were accompanied by a D-Day Veteran, one of the “Bedford Boys” who came through Jun 6th unscathed while his twin brother was killed. I also remember on my first visit to the memorial coming upon the Overlord Arch and seeing someone anonymously left their Purple Heart medal on the sculpture that memorializes the fallen soldiers of D-Day. It just about brought all of us to tears. To this day, the staff has no record or backstory on who left the Purple Heart or why. Other stories mention a spouse, who lost the love of her life on D-Day, coming to the memorial looking for healing after all these years, veterans of all wars grieving and then cleansing their souls of their wartime experiences, even an elderly German man who participated in D-Day on the Axis side who came to honor those he killed and to say he was sorry.
The humanity that comes out of such stories is touching and beautiful. It’s what keeps me returning to the Memorial. And I encourage you to make the trek and experience the National D-Day Memorial for yourself. You will be glad you did.
To plan your trip to the National D-Day Memorial, learn more, or make a donation, click here!