Sixty-five years ago today, over one hundred fifty-thousand allied troops charged the beaches of Normandy, many getting sliced down in the prime of their lives by 6 foot waves, a salvo of enemy fire, and anything else that the Germans could throw at them. The amphibious assault was a miracle in itself. The open beaches were lined with concertina wire, land mines, and barricades of all sorts. Towering cliffs hid the enemy and the barrage of shells that came raining down. There was nowhere to hide. No where to run. Some troops came in by parachute behind enemy lines. Many of those young men were cut down as they drifted to earth.
The landing included 5,000 ships and 11,000 airplanes. The casualty rates were horrendous. According to Memorial History:
When it was over, the Allied Forces had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties; more than 4,000 were dead. Yet somehow, due to planning and preparation, and due to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, Fortress Europe had been breached
One town in Virginia was hit especially hard with casualties: Bedford. Bedford, Virginia is a small town in southwest Virginia. It is also the site of the world-famous World War II D-Day Memorial.
Why was Bedford, Virginia chosen as the site of a D-Day Memorial? According to the official D-Day Memorial website:
Like eleven other Virginia communities, Bedford provided a company of soldiers (Company A) to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on 3 February 1941. Some thirty Bedford soldiers were still in that company on D-Day; several more from Bedford were in other D-Day companies, including one who, two years earlier, had been reassigned from the 116th Infantry to the First Infantry Division. Thus he had already landed in both Northern Africa and Sicily before coming ashore on D-Day at Omaha Beach with the Big Red One. Company A of the 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach as part of the First Division’s Task Force O. By day’s end, nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial here.
The youngest D-Day and World War II veterans are 82 years old. On the 65th anniversary of D-Day, one only assumes that fewer and fewer of these heroes will be amongst us on future anniversaries. WWII veterans are dying at the rate of a thousand per day. The D-Day Memorial has the following events planned:
The 65th anniversary of D-Day will find our youngest D-Day and WWII veterans turning 82 years of age. The years to come will find ever fewer of them among us, and fewer still able to travel and share their stories. Because that day will arrive all too soon, the National D-Day Memorial will present “Overlord Echoes” June 4-7, 2009 to allow veterans and the public to share information and perspectives on D-Day with the larger purpose of preserving the lessons and legacy of that decisive moment in history.
The D-Day Memorial is in very poor financial health. It is not part of the National Park Service. Donations have dried up. Perhaps it is the economy. Perhaps it is that D-Day was 65 years ago. It is not fresh on our minds. The Memorial doesn’t sit out in the middle of the Mall in D.C. It is not able to sustain itself on gifts alone. Attached is the link if you want to help.
This town’s people have sacrificed more than it seems possible to bear. The D-Day Memorial only seems fitting in this town; the home of so many who made the ultimate sacrifice. It would be a dishonor to those who suffered and died, not just on D-Day but throughout all of WWII, for it to have to close because of lack of funds.
A must-see video: One Soldier’s Longest Day
Very informative! Author Seltzer gives us a first hand recount not only of D-Day but also liberating a concentration camp.