As Debbie was gathering tourist brochures at Otter Peak Lodge, she was directed to a brochure of the The National D-Day Memorial, located in the tiny town of Bedford, Va. We had never heard of this memorial, and wondered why a memorial to such an important historic event was not located in Washington DC. This memorial pays tribute to the generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in largest amphibious assault of the French coastline, in order to start repelling Germany from Western Europe. After walking around the grounds, we decided to take the free guided tour, which proved to be very informative and inspiring.
You are about to embark on the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you… I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. – Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
These were the words spoken to a group of paratroopers by Gen. Eisenhower, hours before they climbed aboard the aircraft that would take them to France, leading the D-Day invasion force onto the beaches of Normandy in "Operation Overlord." The name was chosen by Winston Churchill, and is featured prominently over the archway designed to symbolize the allied victory and the resulting freedom for Europe from Nazi Germany.
But the question needs to be answered as to why this inspiring memorial was constructed in Bedford, Va. In the 1940's, Bedford was a small farming community with a population of 3200. Like other communities, Bedford had a group of of young men volunteer with the Virginia National Guard. As the guide explained, they were given nice fancy uniforms, and received $1 per month for attending monthly training drills. By 1941, some thirty Bedford Boys were activated into the 29th Infantry Division, and were training for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. On June 6, 1941, Operation Overlord began, and by days end, 19 of the company's Bedford Boys were dead. Two more died later in the Normandy campaign, as did another 2 assigned to other companies. Proportionally, Bedford, Va suffered the nation's severest D-Day losses. Consequently, Congress authorized the building of the Memorial here.
One additional anecdote provided by the guide: The town of Bedford did not learn of the deaths until July 1941. When the telegraph operator, a 21 year old female, turned on her telegraph one morning, she received 14 separate telegraphs notifying parents, wives, brothers and sisters, of the deaths of these boys. The odds were very good that she personally knew each and every one of them.