By MeLinda Schnyder
Close-up of a sculpture in the National D-Day Memorial
All photos courtesy of National D-Day Memorial
With the youngest D-Day veterans now in their mid-90s, the 75th anniversary of the Allied Forces’ landing in Normandy, France, to help defeat Nazi Germany will likely be the last sizeable gathering of World War II veterans. The folks at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, expect to assemble the largest number of American D-Day and WWII veterans on the June 6 anniversary.
Nearly 60,000 people visit the memorial each year. More than 20,000 visitors attended the memorial’s dedication in 2001, and some 10,000 participated in the 70th-anniversary D-Day events, including 300 WWII veterans. This year’s event, The Final Salute: D-Day Plus 75 Years, will feature five days of ceremonies, displays, and additional opportunities to commemorate one of the most ambitious and far-reaching military campaigns in history, which was considered “the beginning of the end of war in Europe.”
Boy Scouts at the National D-Day Memorial thanking a WW II veteran for his service.
“The 75th anniversary of D-Day is perhaps our last, best opportunity to personally thank those who were there,” says Angela Lynch, associate director of marketing for the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. “We must assure them that the legacy of that day, of what they did on behalf of liberty-loving people around the globe, will be preserved and spoken of for generations to come. It is a tremendous duty that we do not take lightly.”
Bedford—a small town in west-central Virginia midway between Lynchburg and Roanoke and about 180 miles from Washington, D.C.—was chosen as the location for the National D-Day Memorial as a symbol of the many communities who suffered great loss on D-Day.
Among the soldiers who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, was Company A of the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division; and among their number were some 30 Bedford soldiers. By day’s end, 19 of those Bedford Boys from Co. A, and one from Co. F, were dead. Given the county’s small population, this represented the highest known per capita losses for the nation on D-Day. Twenty other men from Bedford died later in the Normandy and France campaigns.
Overview of the memorial set amid the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Comprising nearly 90 acres at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the memorial grounds are designed to immerse visitors in the D-Day experience, from planning to landing to victory. There are gardens, plazas, sculptures and a memorial wall. The centerpiece of the site is a 44-foot-tall archway with the inscription “Overlord,” the military code name for the D-Day operation. A reflecting pool features a collection of statues depicting an emotional scene of soldiers landing on the beaches of France.
Anniversary events at the National D-Day Memorial begin June 5 with the dedication of a new narrative plaque (there are more than 150 on the grounds) honoring the leadership of the officers trained at the U.S. Naval Academy. The commemorative observance begins on June 6 with an aerial tribute followed by a ceremony and concluding with a roll call of Normandy veterans. Memorial admission is free that day (but guided tours will not be available).
Other events during the five days of observance include a USO-inspired 1940s concert, a victory-style parade through downtown Bedford, a field chapel service at the memorial and more. Visit dday.org/75 for up-to-date details.
More D-Day Commemorations:
Visit the following websites for details on more 75th-anniversary D-Day observances.
National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (near Dayton)
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
National World War II Memorial
Eisenhower Presidential Museum
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Hyde Park, New York
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of AAA World.
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