Going to the Blue Ridge Parkway is always a special treat for me. Every curve along the mountains gives you a beautiful view, especially when you are on a high elevation. It is hidden below these majestic mountains that a national gem resides. In a little town named Bedford in Virginia is where this treasure lies.
The National D Day Memorial was created through the vision of one of the Bedford WWII survivors, Bob Slaughter. This memorial tells the story of the D Day Invasion through a series of different monuments, statues, plaques and very well versed tour guides.
Why is this national memorial located in such a small town instead of somewhere more prominent? Bedford is a rural town located in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Parkway. During WWII, the young men of Bedford answered the call to defend their country. Most of the young men were boys that were in their teens, which is why they are called the Bedford Boys.
At that time, Bedford’s population was 3,200. Thirty of these young men made up Company A of the 29th Infantry Division of the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment and were a part of the assault on the Omaha Beach. There were Bedford Boys in other Companies that took part in the D Day Invasion. By the end of the day, 19 men of Company A were dead. Two more soldiers died in Normandy and another 2 died from other D Day companies. Bedford’s loses were proportionally the largest casualty for D Day loses of any community in the US. Establishing this national memorial here was to recognize Bedford for its D Day sacrifices.
The beginning of the tour starts at the Bedford Visitor Center where you can view a short video that tells of the D Day Invasion and you purchase your ticket. Then you drive up a top of a hill and follow the memorial road to the Quonset hut where you park and meet your tour guide. The tour guide takes you through the memorial via golf cart. The first stop is the bust of Bob Slaughter, a Bedford survivor of WWII who was involved in the D Day Invasion.
Next you are taken to the area that was designed after the D Day Patch and has busts of the officers who served Eisenhower during the invasion strategy. Inside the ceiling of the folly where Eisenhower’s statue stands is a mosaic copy of the invasion map.
The next level has very graphic statues and sculptures that depict the beach invasion. There are also plaques and a huge open area that is to represent a quarter of the distance that the soldiers had to traverse due to the landing occurring during low tide. There is a sculpture that depicts the two Army ranger groups that were assigned to scale the cliff and take out the German pillbox located at the top of the cliff. There is a sculpture of what the landing craft looked like.
On the eastern edge outside of this area along the sidewalks around the memorial is the Gold Star Monument. The center is a cut out of the soldier. When the sun sets, it casts a shadow of a fallen soldier. On the back side of this monument are pictures of the Bedford soldiers and their wives and girlfriends, the invasion and the burial during the invasion and afterwards. The US is the only country in the world that lets families decide whether to bury their dead where they died or bury them in the US.
At the very top of the level is the Memorial Arch that stands 44 feet tall to represent the year of the invasion, has the word Overload embellished on the top crossbar of the arch which represents the name of the invasion and has the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. In an circle around the base of the arch are the names of the beaches where the invasion took place. Down the sidewalk toward the entrance is a couple of statues, one that depicts two soldiers and the other is a replica of a French statue that has part of its face blown away.
This national memorial was dedicated on 6 June 2001. President George W. Bush stated in his dedication speech “Fifty-seven years ago, America and the nations of Europe formed a bond that has never been broken. And all of us incurred a debt that can never be repaid. Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world.”
If you are ever on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Peaks of Otter Lodge, take State Route 43 South into Bedford and follow the signs to the D Day Memorial to explore this national gem. Touring this site will definitely give you a special appreciation for the sacrifices that were made to keep world free from tyranny.