Several days ago, calendar watchers observed that June 6 was D-Day, when 65 years ago, 150,000 Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy to make way for the million troops who would follow to liberate Europe from Nazi control. Only a few old men who participated still survive, but at the time of the attack, many participants in this key World War II battle were mere teenagers at the time, who joined the Army to help their country but ended up making history.
Since 2001 this day, considered a turning point in the war, has been memorialized at the National D-Day Memorialin Bedford, Virginia. This site was selected as a tribute to the sacrifice made by Bedford families; of the 35 sons of tiny Bedford who went off to war, 19 were lost on Omaha Beach at Normandy and four more died in the following weeks. Bedford had the highest casualty rate of any place in the country for the D-Day invasion. Old timers still remember the sad day when the news of the first great loss came over the teletype at Green's Drug Store, the local Western Union Office. The whole town grieved the loss, but as time went on, the memory dimmed for all but the families who had lost sons and the veterans themselves. The vets visited the local school and told local children about their experiences, but they always hoped for a way that one day, the sacrifices of 23 Bedford citizens to be permanently remembered.
Authorized by Congress in 1996, the memorial was planned to help visitors visualize D-Day with a series of three distinct plazas that represent the planning, landing and fighting, and victory stages. Reynolds Garden, the first plaza, symbolizes the enormous planning and preparation that went into the attack and is shaped like the combat patch used by the Allied Expeditionary Force. The second plaza, Gray Plaza, includes a pool with figures of soldiers struggling to come ashore and a representation of the Higgins craft used for the invasion; the pool even has jets that spurt out to simulate gunfire. The necrology wall that lists the men lost from the U.S. and the Allied Forces is at this plaza. The third plaza features the 44 foot tall Overland Arch, inscribed with the day of victory June 6, 1944.
Around D-Day, the memorial is the site of special festivities. The memorial welcomes visitors every day except Christmas, New Year's, and Thanksgiving from 9 am - 5 pm and offers visitors insight into the history, particularly from the soldiers' point of view. Programs are also held there about women's history, black history, and other topics not usually found in presentations about World War II.
A short ride from Smith Mountain Lake, the National Memorial is worth a visit where you're in the area. If you are thinking of settling here, a trip to the Memorial will give you a sense of the rich local history that will surround you every morning when you arise to the beauty of the area.
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