Monday, June 13, 2011

The National D-Day Memorial

My first D-Day journey actually happened in the summer of 2006, when I did a Civil War tour of Virginia (thanks to a generous grant from USM). Most people (even in Virginia) don’t realize it, but the National D-Day Memorial is located in the small hamlet of Bedford, near Roanoke and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The memorial is an impressive tribute to the entire Operation Overlord, the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower (which I will comment on later this summer), and the Allied forces that took Normandy and eventually liberated France.

Of course, the question that comes to mind instantly is “Why Bedford?” The answer, unfortunately, is due the incredibly high casualty rate the young men of Bedford suffered at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. The town of Bedford suffered the greatest per capita loss during the assault of any city in the United States. The story of Bedford’s loss is chronicled in the awesome book The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw.

My pictures don’t really do it justice, but I can vividly recall the grandeur, the symbolism, and the impact of the entire memorial. Walking up to the memorial, I was struck by the massive arch bearing the term “OVERLORD”. I walked around the memorial to the back in order to visit in chronological stages. Eisenhower meets you at the rear, striking a pose of confidence under a map of the operation within a traditional cupola. He serves as the base of the flaming sword from the symbol of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, including a rainbow of flowers at the tip of the blade. The central plaza contains the names of over 2,000 Allied soldiers who paid the ultimate price during the landings. A representation of a Higgins Boat opens up to a pool of water, which contains statues of soldiers in action struggling to make it to the beach while dodging bullets (air jets underwater) and obstacles of the Atlantic Wall. Another sculpture has soldiers scaling the wall and reaching the top of the memorial, representing the Allied success in the operation , forthcoming liberation of France, and eventual victory over Nazi Germany.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

The D-Day Memorial is an amazing place, full of symbolism, beauty, and education. Regrettably, the memorial is facing sustainability challenges as it enters its 10th year. I hope to visit it again when I am in that part of Virginia in the future.

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