National D-Day Memorial

The recent commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of D-Day made me realize that I hadn’t done a post on the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. Bedford is in the southwest part of the state and we visited the memorial last year, in April, when we went to that part of the world for the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. We stayed in Lynchburg and Bedford is about 30 minutes west.

Why a national memorial in Bedford, I wondered — a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. It’s because Bedford lost the largest percentage of it’s population, of any US town, in the invasion. Twenty-three Bedford men died from a town of about 3200.

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D-Day, June 6, 1944, was the day the Allies landed 5000 ships with about 150,000 troops on the beaches of Normandy, France, in an effort to gain a foothold in Europe. The troops jumped off the boat ramps and swam/ran/crawled over 200 yards of open beach before they reached cover. Then they had to climb the cliffs.

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The Germans knew that Normandy was a possible landing spot so had build extensive defensive works high along the cliffs outlining the beach.  German artillery fired down on the invading troops.  Over four thousand Allied troops died. But the Allies were successful in that they were finally able to get troops on the ground, infiltrating Europe.

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The memorial is divided into several sections. The main feature is an invasion tableau. Bursts of water would spray upward (as you can see in the second photo) occasionally, depicting artillery fire landing around the soldiers.

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Something I didn’t know: the “D” in D-Day stands for “Day.” It was military code for the day that a major event would happen.  Then a plus or minus sign would be added for days before and after the event.  Four days after D-Day — any D-Day — was D+4. Four days before was D-4. H-Hour was the time it started. After the term D-Day became synonymous with the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944, the military stopped its general use.

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The memorial is surrounded by a wall containing plaques, listing the names of 4,413 Allied troops who died in the invasion. While this is a national memorial to Americans who fought at Normandy, there’s a very international presence. Lots of acknowledgements of nonAmerican Allied forces and all Allied flags flying in several places.

There’s also a formal English garden with a statue of Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower under a neoclassical cover. It was actually the first thing that visitors go through on the way to the tableau, since it represents the planning stages of the invasion, which took place in England. I didn’t find it particularly interesting — just another pedestrian statue — and that’s why it didn’t start the blog.

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I started with the tableau because it illustrates the whole D-Day story, and it’s also quite visually compelling. But my favorite memorial element was this:

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Le Monument aux Morts, by sculptor Edmond de Laheudrie, is a statue of Nike (or Victory), wearing the utility belt and helmet of a World War I French soldier. She was dedicated in 1921 in memory of the 44 men of Trevieres, France who died in WWI and stands outside of the Church of St. Aignan at Trévières. De Laheudrie was mayor of Trevieres from 1896 to 1900.

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The statue sustained damage during WWII. Some kind of artillery fire struck the head of the figure and removed the lower half of its face. The French decided to leave the figure as it was, as a memorial to both world wars.

The Bedford version is a recasting, the gift of Guy Wildenstein, a billionaire art dealer whose family fled France for the US during the German occupation. “With eternal gratitude to the United States of America … for granting asylum to our parents and for halting the extermination of a people.”


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4 Responses to National D-Day Memorial

  1. findingnyc says:

    A really interesting memorial – particularly the statue in the water and the ones coming out of the water. All of the sculptures are powerful though. This is one I really would like to see in person someday.

  2. nerdtrips says:

    My aunt and uncle live somewhat near Bedford, so we went to the D-Day memorial for a Memorial Day concert. I thought the sculptures were intriguing.

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