There may be no better example of the heroism marking the World War II generation than D-Day on June 6, 1944. This is when Allied forces from Britain, Canada, France, the U.S. and eight other nations stormed up Normandy beach. It was the beginning of the end for Nazi domination across Europe.
This crucial moment for the advancement of liberty is memorialized in the small American town of Bedford Virginia, which sacrificed many sons in the Normandy assault. Seeing this moving tribute to the troops who participated in history's largest invasion is certainly worth the effort to get there.
The monument location makes it even more compelling than many memorials situated in Washington D.C. Tiny Bedford, in the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was chosen for the site of the National D-Day Memorial because it suffered the highest loss of life per capita of any U.S. community on that 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. Two more were killed in the fighting beyond the beachhead in the ensuing days. These men came from a town that had only 3,200 people.
To honor this sacrifice, Congress designated Bedford to host the memorial in 1997. The 88-acre site was dedicated by President George W. Bush on June 6, 2001.
Tours of the complex begin at the English Garden, representing the planning of the operation that took place in England. The garden is in the shape of a sword, like the shoulder patch for the Allied Expeditionary Force Supreme Headquarters.
At the end of the garden is a dome housing a heroic statue of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe. The words of Eisenhower's order of the day to the troops are rendered in bronze on the garden wall.
Next is a plaza that symbolizes 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 water jets that represent the barrage of mines and gunfire negotiated by the troops. Sculpture groupings honor all the Allied troops in that battle, especially the 4,391 who died that day including 2,477 Americans.
Surrounding the tableaux are two walls with 200 bronze plaques listing the names of these fallen soldiers. 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 Overlord Arch of Triumph. (Operation Overlord was the code name for the invasion.) The plaza contains flags of all 12 Allied nations that fought on D-Day.
Today we reflect upon the 69th Anniversary of D-Day. Memorial visitors can observe this solemn anniversary at a place where valor, fidelity, and sacrifice are honored throughout the year, paying tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Normandy as well as honoring those veterans who lived to fight another day. There will be a ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial including music and speakers. Tours will be provided and admission is free from 11 AM until noon.
The National D-Day Memorial is located at 3 Overlord Circle in Bedford Virginia. The phone number is 540-586-3329. For more information, visit www.dday.org. Bedford County offers a joint admission ticket to both The National D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson's nearby summer retreat of Poplar Forest. The ticket costs $17. For more info on Bedford County, visit www.visitbedford.com.
Mike Quane is a travel writer with twenty-five years experience. His work has appeared in The New York Daily News, Newsday, Grit, Endless Vacation, Parents Magazine, The Portland Press Herald, Telegraph Publications, Hong Kong Traveling Magazine, the inflight magazines of Singapore and Korean airlines plus many other places. He wrote a weekly column at This Week Publications for fifteen years and a monthly column at LongIsland.com for over a decade. Mike has covered destinations worldwide.