America's National D-Day Memorial
When D-Day comes around again on June 6 to recollect the multination invasion of Normandy, France, think a moment: Where is America's National D-Day Memorial found? Washington, D.C.? Nope.
It's in Bedford, Va., not far from better-known Lynchburg. And for good reason.
On June 6, 1944, Bedford lost a greater percentage of its population on the beaches of Normandy than any other municipality in the United States. Perhaps a reason that you know little about it is that the National D–Day Memorial was not built by the federal government, which promotes only its own. This monument, built through private donations, really puts federal monuments to shame.
The monument was completed in 2001, opened on June 6, of course, with 88 acres of natural beauty and man-made memorial items. It is a phenomenal presentation of full-sized bronze soldiers storming out of a full-sized bronze landing craft, rushing across water that leaps in spots simulating “rifle fire” from the top of the wall, which more soldiers climb.
The entrance is a massive rectangular arch displaying the flags of the 12 nations involved in landing in France against German opposing cannon, machine gun and rifle fire. Many of the Bedford Boys led the charge and remain in French cemeteries with American flags, tenderly cared for by the French who have not forgotten.
Other displays at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford include an observer's single-engine airplane and a very large, long flower garden planted with colors that matched the Operation Overlord invasion arm patch worn by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and his soldiers of many nations.
There also is a walkway flanked by 4-foot-tall pedestals atop which you see bronze busts of the key Allied generals and civilians who directed the invasion.
Of course, there is a souvenir shop complete with reprints of newspapers of June 7, the day after, blazing the story of the landings.
Along the walls bronze plaques describe actions on D-Day, including those of many nationals of different countries united to overthrow the Nazis.
It stands among the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia. It's easy to find but it's a long ride from Western Pennsylvania. Drive east and connect with Interstate 81, then south to Buchanan (exit 167) and east on Va. 43 to Bedford. It's a nice drive over the mountain. Local signs will direct you.
See the history and much more online — enter National D-Day Memorial Bedford to get a half-dozen good selections.
The best days to visit are anytime but on Memorial Day and D-Day the greatest pageantry is presented.
John Lenkey III lives on Pittsburgh's North Side and has taken many foreign visitors to visit the site.