“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.”
–President George W. Bush (at National D-Day Memorial dedication, June 6, 2001)
Monday, June 6, 2016, was a day for sights and sounds and memories and stories from some of the few remaining veterans who survived June 6, 1944. It was the 72nd anniversary of Operation Overlord — the allied invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day — that marked the beginning of the end of World War II.
Exiting the four-lane highway in Bedford and turning onto Overlord Drive, it is a quiet drive through open fields up the hill to a place of reverence and thankfulness. Surrounded by the peaceful Virginia countryside with the Blue Ridge Mountains, including Sharp Top and Flat Top mountains that form the Peaks of Otter in the distance, the National D-Day Memorial  provides an opportunity to learn and reflect on a pivoting event in America’s — and the world’s — history.
The overwhelming extent of the sacrifices made as well as the huge operation that involved 150,000 Allied troops, 5,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft, and huge losses of more than 9,000 Allied soldier who died, including 2,499 American soldiers, in the largest amphibious landing the world has ever seen, was sobering. The liberation of Europe began that day and, though the war would continue for almost a year longer, the Normandy invasion gave Allied forces an opening to begin working their way across Europe to defeat Hitler.
Thankfully, the vision of D-Day veteran Bob Slaughter to have a national site to remember and honor those involved was achieved, and the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated on June 6th, 2001, by President George W. Bush.
My husband and I arrived early on Monday and stayed into the afternoon — attending the 11am ceremony, strolling the grounds, reading the historical plaques, and listening to the roll call of names. We left with a renewed appreciation for the Greatest Generation. Below are photos that capture a small part of the day. May we never forget.
Why Bedford for the national memorial? As explained in the video, the memorial is a reminder of the extreme sacrifice the small Virginia town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains made during the invasion on June 6, 1946. They lost more men per capita than any other location in America. Of the 30 Bedford soldiers in Company A, 19 perished that day and four others during the war. That sacrifice by the Bedford Boys was the reason their town was chosen as the site for the national memorial. For photos of the memorial’s tribute to the Bedford Boys, see 72 years later … the Bedford Boys .
For the first time ever the roll call of the names of the 2,499 Americans killed  on D-Day was read by volunteers whose voices could be heard throughout the memorial’s grounds. The honoring of the fallen continued for three hours into the afternoon with names read by veterans, families, volunteers, and dignitaries.
A P-51 Mustang circled the site and made two passes over the memorial at the beginning of the ceremony. The World War II vintage aircraft was an American long-range, single-seat fighter-bomber used throughout the war and on D-Day (see Air Power Over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond ). The pilots who flew the aircraft (see WW II pilot remembers D-Day, 72 years later ) and gliders (see The Flying Coffins of World War II ) were instrumental to allied forces, flying bombing missions and delivering troops and supplies.
Members from the French Embassy were there to award France’s highest decoration, the Legion d’Honneur is France’s highest decoration, to a Frenchman who was liberated with his family because of the D-Day invasion. Decades later he moved to America only to see there were no commemorations like were held in his country to honor the men who were part of that liberation, and so he began working with them. Now a Roanoke resident, he has continued to honor and serve the vets as they grow older. After many American soldiers received the Legion d’Honneur throughout the years, he is the latest recipient. See his entire story by reporter Matt Chittum in the Roanoke Times .
See more photos from Jill Nance with the News and Advance .
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
June 6, 2016