Honor of Sacrifice
Tom Wilmoth, Contributing Writer
The National D-Day Memorial in
serves as a gathering place for veterans to honor
their own and for civilians to pay tribute to the sacrifice of service.
When the National Guard Company A unit
based in Bedford, Va., was called up to active duty in 2003, the unit decided
to mobilize for departure from the
That decision was certainly appropriate.
The last time Company A had been called
up was during World War II. During that deployment the
unit fought in the D-Day invasion and the town lost more men per capita than
any other community in the nation. Thankfully, when Company A arrived back
in 2005, everyone returned. The parade in honor of Company A’s return in
2005 also included a trip around the D-Day memorial as a tribute to the
unit’s World War II predecessors.
Indeed, the National
serves as a rallying point for veterans of all ages and for those who
support them. And it provides
an opportunity to remind visitors of all ages of the sacrifices that have
been made for them.
“A trip to the memorial would be a
great opportunity for a family to not only recognize what it took to end
World War II, but also a great way to see how one town’s struggle is
really symbolic of all the communities, large and small, who answered the
nation’s call to arms,” says Joe D. Banner, associate for special
projects with the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
memorial draws visitors from all over, including an annual visit
from members of Rolling Thunder, a veteran's organization of
memorial serves as a gathering place every Veterans Day, where soldiers come
together to share memories and those whom they served take the time to shake
their hands and offer thanks. It’s a place where on Memorial Day
generations gather at a bronze battlefield grave-marker to leave flowers,
mementos and gratitude. Perched atop the highest hill in Bedford, the National D-Day Memorial, on a daily basis, tells the story of great
sacrifice and great valor.
a way not only to memorialize those who went in on D-Day, but to honor those
who are serving today,” Banner explains. “A good memorial tells a story,
and we tell a story about the most important event in the 20th century. The
mission is to make sure that story and the lessons and legacy of the story
remain clear and meaningful to everyone — the present and future
That story is well documented. On June
6, 1944, more than 150,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen executed the
Normandy. Months of careful planning and training went into preparing these citizen
soldiers for the largest land, air and sea assault the world had ever known.
The force of 12 nations crossed the
and landed soldiers on five beaches along the Norman coast known as
“Fortress Europe.” Stormy weather and enemy fire took a terrible toll,
particularly from the first wave to come ashore. By nightfall, Allied
soldiers held the beaches firmly, but more than 4,600 had lost their lives
in the effort.
Nineteen “Bedford Boys” lost their
lives in that invasion, a devastating blow to
this town of 3,200 citizens.
The memorial, officially dedicated on
June 6, 2001, by President George W. Bush, will draw its one-millionth
visitor sometime this year. Included among those visitors are some 70,000
schoolchildren from nine different states who have attended the memorial’s
“Fidelity, Valor and Sacrifice” program.
Teaching our youth is important, Banner
says, because it’s estimated that between 1,200 and 1,500 World War II
veterans pass away each day. “It’s increasingly important while
they’re still among us to not only thank and honor them for their
contribution, but for them to know that after their generation passes their
story is still going to be told and not forgotten … They are a resource
that, as we all know, is leaving us.”
Banner himself was awestruck by the
memorial when he first visited it five years ago.
served in the Army, he was visiting family in
when someone suggested he visit the memorial. “I just felt moved by the
mission and what they were trying to do,” Banner said. So touched was he,
in fact, that he moved to the area to spend a year writing about the
memorial. Somewhere along the way, he was approached by the foundation and
asked if he wanted a job.
Meeting and working with the veterans
helps provide perspective on his job. Banner wants to represent the
generation of World War II veterans so their story lives on. “Our mission is to make sure they are
not lost,” he says of the veterans’ stories.
The National D-Day Memorial offers
annual programs, celebrations, remembrances and special events. It offers
walking tours and shuttle-cart tours each day. Those tours highlight the
planning and preparations for D-Day, as well as the execution of the
assault. The nine-acre monument is situated on the 88-acre memorial grounds.
The monument captures the complete
D-Day experience. Three plazas
communicate specific stages in the invasion, from planning to battle to victory.
Visitors begin their tour in the
, where they view a bronze 7½-foot statue of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Leaving the garden, visitors traverse
, a large, blue place symbolizing the crossing of the
. They then find themselves facing a landing-zone scene, complete with
landing craft, obstacles, simulated enemy fire and bronze soldiers
struggling towards shore.
, featuring the striking Victory Arch, is the final stop on the tour.
Standing a symbolic
44 feet, 6 inches tall, the arch is a classical tribute to the Allies’
success. Framed by the arch is a bronze battlefield grave marker, a silent
reminder that success requires sacrifice and freedom is never free. The
legacy of D-Day is also celebrated in the entrance leading to the monument. “This
memorial is for anyone who enjoys freedom today. It’s a story that started
63 years ago and yet we still see the effects today,” notes Banner.
As time moves forward, the memorial
grows. Soon, portrait busts of Eisenhower’s “six lieutenants,” the
staff members who helped plan the invasion, will be added. More pieces are
to be added to the beach scene and eventually there will be components added
representing the Air Corps and Navy. Long-term plans call for construction
of an educational facility. In
addition, there is a wall listing the names of every person killed on D-Day.
The memorial foundation is the only organization to have compiled such a
“We want people to realize this is a
memorial to not only that one event, but to anyone who has worn the uniform,
and has answered the nation’s call or made themselves available. We make
it a point to honor all of our veterans,” Banner adds.
Visitors are moved, many to tears. There
are stories of inspiration, closure and remembrance. “We had a sixth-grader who took a tour
and the next day he approached a teacher at school with $130 that he had
saved to buy a video-game system. Instead he donated every bit of it to the
memorial,” Banner recalls. “When they asked him why, he said, ‘Well, I
want to be a Marine when I grow up.’ ”
To the memorial supporters and staff,
that’s what it’s all about: inspiring members of the younger generations
and honoring the older ones. “It really does reach across the
generations,” Banner says of the National D-Day Memorial.
The Road to
The National D-Day Memorial is located
at the interchange of Rt. 460 and Rt. 122 in the city of
Lynchburg. Access from U.S. 460 to both Interstate 81 and Rt. 29 is within 25 miles
of the memorial. It is convenient to various lodging, dining and shopping
facilities. Several other attractions, historic sites and museums are also
is located within 20 miles of the memorial. For more information about
and the surrounding area, contact the Bedford
at (540) 587-5681.
The memorial is open daily between 10
a.m. and 5 p.m. except for New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas
Day. During the winter months prospective visitors should call (800)
351-3329 before visiting. Admission is $5 for adults; $3 for children ages 6
to 16. There is no charge for children under 6 years old. Guided walking
tours and cart tours occur throughout the day. The tours last about 45
minutes. Walking tours are $2; cart tours are $3. Tickets may be purchased
at the information desk. The Memorial is 100 percent wheelchair accessible.
Group and special tours may be pre-arranged. Special events and celebrations
are planned throughout the year.
For more information, contact the
National D-Day Memorial Foundation at (540) 586-3329, (800) 351-DDAY or
visit the Web site at www.dday.org.