There is perhaps no better example of the heroism of what's called "The Greatest Generation" than D-Day, June 6, 1944, when American and Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy, France, in the face of Nazi firepower during World War II. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi domination in Europe.
This crucial moment in our history is memorialized in a small town in Virginia that sacrificed many of its sons in the battle. The tribute in Bedford, Virginia, to the American and Allied troops that mounted the largest invasion in history is certainly moving and worth the seven-hour drive from New York. The location of the memorial in Bedford makes it stand apart from other such monuments in Washington, DC, and other large cities, and that makes it even more compelling.
Located in the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bedford was chosen for the National D-Day Memorial because it suffered, per capita, the highest loss of life of any U.S. community. Nineteen servicemen from the town gave their lives in the fight at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and two more were killed in the fighting beyond the beachhead in the ensuing days. This, out of a population of only 3,200. To honor that sacrifice, Congress designated Bedford for the National D-Day Memorial, and the 88-acre site was dedicated by President Bush on June 6, 2001.
Tours of the complex start at the "English Garden," representing the planning that took place in England preceding the invasion. The garden is in the shape of a sword, replicating the shoulder patch that signified the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. At the end of the garden is a Tuscan dome housing an
heroic statue of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied forces. Eisenhower's "order of the day" to the troops is also rendered in bronze on the garden's wall.
Beyond the garden is a plaza that represents the English Channel and the beachhead at Normandy. There, visitors can see the re-creation of a D-Day landing craft and life-size bronze soldiers at various stages of the assault. Obstacles in the pool and jets of water symbolize the mines and gunfire directed at the troops. The sculpture groupings honor all the valiant heroes of that battle, especially the 4,391 who gave their lives that day, 2,477 of them American. Surrounding the tableaux are two walls with 200 bronze plaques listing the names of the American and Allied soldiers who died in the assault on the coast of France. There are also tributes to the air and naval forces which played key roles in supporting the action.
Rising over the invasion depiction is the triumphal Overlord Arch, named for "Operation Overlord," code name for the attack. The plaza contains the flags of the 12 nations that provided forces for the Allied assault, which ultimately resulted in victory over Nazi Germany. More information on the memorial can be obtained from the official website, www.dday.org.
In addition to the National D-Day Memorial, Bedford has a number of other attractions that make it a place worth your visit. Nearby are the magnificent "Peaks of Otter," of the Blue Ridge, named for the Otter River that descends from the mountains. The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is among America's most beautiful drives.
Also nearby are two historic sites, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest, a mansion he designed himself as his personal retreat, and the boyhood home of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, who rose from slavery to become a college president.
For more information, contact the Bedford Tourism Department at 1-877-HIPEAKS, or www.visitbedford.com.