The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., is a sobering and powerful tribute to the Allied forces whose heroic efforts led to the successful invasion of Hitler's “Fortress Europe” on June 6, 1944.
From Charlotte, Bedford is about 210 miles. Plan on a four-hour drive, one-way.
Take Interstate 85 North to Greensboro, then U.S. 220 North to Rocky Mount, Va. Go north on Va. 122 to Bedford. Signs will direct you to the memorial.
To see and do
It was appropriate that Congress should choose Bedford as the site for the National D-Day Memorial. Though the Normandy landing achieved its military objective, the cost in human life was high. Casualties among Allied forces included 4,500 dead. Of those, 19 hailed from Bedford. With a population in 1944 of only 3,200, Bedford suffered the highest per-capita loss of any town or city in America.
The 88-acre memorial was dedicated June 6, 2001, and seeks both to honor the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the Allied forces on D-Day and to educate present and future generations so that the legacy of that monumental day in history remains clear and meaningful.
Visitors to the memorial pass under the towering triumphal arch inscribed with the word “Overlord,” the code name for the Allies' carefully orchestrated attack.
Passing through the arch, your attention will be drawn first to the simple bronze replica of an inverted rifle pushed into the earth, with the helmet of a fallen soldier placed over the stock. As you walk toward this memorial, your eyes will begin to take in the dramatic tableau laid out before you – a heavily symbolic representation of the Normandy landing.
In the distance is a stylized representation of a Higgins boat, the Navy craft used to carry soldiers to the beach. Several life-sized bronze statues by sculptor Jim Brothers give visual representation to the life-and-death struggle of the Allied forces to breach the Nazi defenses. To your right, a soldier strains through chest-high water to reach the shore. To the left, the crumpled figure of a fallen soldier lies on the beach, a Bible visible at his side. Directly in front of the viewer, yet another soldier struggles to move forward, pulling a wounded comrade toward hoped-for cover. The largest statue, “Scaling the Wall,” depicts four servicemen attempting to climb the walls of a concrete bunker
Individually and cumulatively, the statuary conveys in some measure the drama of the D-Day landing.
On the western wall of the plaza, which extends in a semi-circle behind the landing tableau, are inscribed the names of U.S. service members killed on D-Day. The names of other Allied Forces killed during the invasion appear on the eastern wall. Other areas of the memorial pay tribute to other aspects of Operation Overlord.
Two circular outparcels to the left and right of the beachhead rightfully acknowledge the immeasurable contributions of the naval and air forces. In addition to 150,000 ground troops, the landing employed 5,000 ships and 10,000 aircraft. A gardened area at the northern end of the grounds focuses on the Allied planning and preparation that preceded the invasion.
The National D-Day Memorial is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed Christmas, New Year's and Thanksgiving). Admission: $5; $3 for ages 6-16. Guided walking and cart tours of the memorial are available for an extra fee and run approximately 45 minutes.
Info: 540-586-3329. www.dday.org.