The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Columns

June 6, 2014

Bedford forever linked to D-Day

Point Blank column

The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., will open its gates today to visitors who wish to pay homage to the fallen young men who sacrificed their lives in what has been described as the bloodiest day of World War II.

It was a huge price, and the memory still haunts the sleepy little town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 40 miles east of Roanoke.

Bedford suffered the highest per-capita loss of life on D-Day of any community in America. It took decades for many folks in Bedford to talk about the great pain suffered by those who lost 21 sons, brothers and nephews on June 6, 1944.

“War is serious business,” one resident said in an interview. “And it’s hard. It’s scary. It’s terrible.”

Some Bedford parents knew their sons were taking part in the massive invasion somewhere on the coast of faraway France. What they didn’t know until several days after the landing was that 21 of their young men had been slain on the sandy beaches of Normandy.

Most had perished within the first few minutes of the fierce Allied assault on the Nazi stronghold facing the Atlantic, where fortified Germans in concrete bunkers opened fire with a barrage of heavy artillery, machine guns and mortars.

At home, meanwhile, the radio had been blaring reports that thousands of Allied troops had stormed the beaches along the French coast and were fighting their way inland.

That’s about all the home folk knew of the unspeakable horror and suffering occurring on the faraway shores of Europe.

But their loss has somehow become a national symbol of sacrifice for the tiny town of Bedford, where tears and scars are forever etched in the marble of a monument for those who perished on D-Day.

Today the town is in the spotlight again, honoring the courageous soldiers who fell in a decisive battle that spelled the beginning of the end of Hitler’s dream of world domination.

It was the largest air, land and sea landing ever attempted, and included more than 5,000 ships, nearly 11,000 airplanes, 50,000 vehicles and more than 150,000 soldiers. The landing resulted in nearly 10,000 casualties for the Allies, including more than 6,500 for the U.S.

Dedicated June 6, 2001, the $12 million facility continues to pay tribute to those who lost their lives during a battle that is defined as one of the key Allied-Nazi clashes of World War II.  

The memorial and education center now overlooks the town of Bedford, Va., and symbolizes and memorializes the valor and sacrifice of the Allied Armed Forces during one of the most celebrated battles in history.

Why Bedford, Va.?

Because Virginia is forever linked with D-Day, a symbol of American sacrifices.

The Virginia National Guard, the 116 Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division, was one of the two first assault regiments on Omaha Beach, the scene of the bloodiest fighting on D-Day.

As might be expected, the men from Virginia who landed together suffered devastating casualties and the Old Dominion endured devastating losses.

The 116th Regiment suffered some 797 casualties, and the highest death toll was concentrated in Virginia, and Bedford, population 3,200, has the painful distinction of suffering the most losses per capita in the nation on D-Day.

The monument with its statues, a waterfall and triumphal arch includes the architecture of the fortified bunkers the Allies encountered in Normandy. A Bible floats in the surf and a soldier’s rifle is stuck barrel-first in the sand with his helmet and dog tags hanging on it.

Even if it doesn’t provide a symbolic reunion for those who lost loved ones and friends during the war, it is hoped that the memorial at least will provide an emotional catharsis for those who still ponder the age-old questions about war and its terrible consequences on humanity.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a freelance columnist for The Register-Herald.

E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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