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:

Bedford, Virginia
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.

6 Thoughts to “Operation Overlord — 65 years Ago Today”

  1. Chris

    Thanks for this thread Moon, and for the videos. Has anyone heard about the Honor Flights for WWII vets? They bring WWII to vets to DC to see the memorial built in their honor. They are true American heroes. Here’s the link for Honor flights they are do a wonderful work, and need volunteers too. Please, pass this information on. I really don’t think this group gets enough attention from the public. I’m also, leaving a letter written by a cousin that talks about the honor flights.
    Here’s their link.
    http://www.honorflight.org/

    Subject: Final Rest

    Hello everyone,

    Last Friday, 7 September 2007, we completed the final journey for husband, brother, father, grandfather, uncle, great uncle, and cousins, David B. Fields as we put him to rest at his last earthly location in Arlington National Cemetery. The celebration of life ceremony and interment was very distinguished and impressive. David received full military honors as a Bronze Star Award Recipient during Viet Nam. Honors included an Honor Flight of Air Force Airmen, Air Force Band, Flag Detail, Horse Drawn Caisson carrying the David to his final resting place, Firing Squad rendering a 21 gun salute, and Bugler for “Taps”. Numerous family and friends from WV, Ohio, Utah, NC, Florida and VA were present. David will be missed by all, but more importantly, he will be remembered by his family, friends, and all of those whose lives he touch through the church, counseling, work and those he met throughout his life.

    And as David would have liked, we spent Saturday having some fun seeing the sights in Washington, DC.

    But one of the best parts of Saturday was thanking WWII veterans at the WWII Memorial. It was a special day as some of the WWII Honor Flights from around the US had a reunion of sorts at the WWII Memorial. There were roughly 1500 WWII Veterans from Ohio, North and South Dakota, Arizona, Utah and other locations. We had a good time shaking their hands and thanking them for their service to our country and for the sacrifices they gave for our freedom. We also heard a few incredible stories. They were all emotionally moved by their Memorial and the reception they received upon their arrival at BWI, Reagan and Dulles Airports and the treatment they received at their hotels and at the Memorial.

    Here is a little information on the Honor Flights for you. This Honor Flights are bringing every living WWII Veteran to see their Memorial before they pass away. The Ohio Flight specifically had a very long day. They had to be at the airport at 5 AM for a 7 AM departure. They arrived at BWI at 8:30 AM and were bussed to the WWII Memorial arriving around 10 AM. They had a flag ceremony, group photo, and tour of the Memorial until 12:45 PM. They toured Arlington National Cemetery, Iwo Jima Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Lincoln and Viet Nam Memorial, then went to dinner and the flight home arriving at 10:45 PM. Now that is a long day for these guys. The groups from out west were flown in on a 747 and spent the night in DC at the Hyatt. Oh did I mention that there is no cost to the veterans? That’s correct. They don’t pay one penny for any of this. It is all paid for by donations, volunteers. Absolutely remarkable and what a tribute to these American Heroes. I even saw several folks who served together and hadn’t seen each other since they came home from the war.

    So it was a very memorable weekend for us.

    GOD Bless all of you and thank you all so very much for your thoughts, prayers and support since last Feb.

    Cheers,
    Randy

  2. Moon-howler

    Thanks for giving us that link Chris. There is something on TV about it right now. That is a very nice thing to contribute to.

    I am sick that the memorial in Bedford might have to close. Hopefully the National Park Service will adopt it.

  3. Gainesville Resident

    Very excellent thread – also good info there Chris. Thanks for putting this up.

  4. Moon-howler

    The D-Day Ceremony is on now on major news channels. It is a very moving ceremony. Seeing those old vets there just tears me up. Also, the remaining ‘Band of Brothers’ are in attendance.

  5. Moon-howler

    Comments from President Obama:

    Obama saluted the contributions of individual veterans of the Normandy landings, including one veteran, Jim Norene, who fought as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

    “Last night, after visiting this cemetery for one last time, he passed away in his sleep,” the president said. “Jim was gravely ill when he left his home, and he knew that he might not return. But just as he did 65 years ago, he came anyway. May he now rest in peace with the boys he once bled with, and may his family always find solace in the heroism he showed here.”

  6. Gainesville Resident

    Those older vets definitely deserve our respect.

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