Remembering Normandy: The National D-Day Memorial

The National D-Day Memorial is located just minutes west IMAG4605of Lynchburg in Bedford, Virginia. We regularly pass by it on our way to the family farm, but despite our love for history, we never took time to take the exit off VA Route 460 to visit. This past July, we finally corrected that mistake.

The small town of Bedford lost more young men proportionally during the D-Day invasion of Normandy than any other American community, so it’s fitting that this moving memorial is nestled in this beautiful mountain town. Rivaling the World War II and Korean War Memorials in Washington, D.C. in both scope and emotional impact, the 88-Acre D-Day Memorial is divided into three sections depicting the planning of “Operation Overlord”, the invasion itself, and despite all odds, the victory.

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The planning of Operation Overlord involved all of the allies, and the National D-Day Memorial features busts of all the major leaders involved, arranged in a semi-circle near a folly in which a full size statue of General Eisenhower is situated.  There is an elegant garden landscaped around a prominent stone sword drawn from the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) shoulder sleeve insignia worn by all the leaders and their staffs.

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The hilt of the flaming sword of the SHAEF “patch” points toward the massive Invasion Plateau which memorializes the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy. Flanked by small tributes to the Allied air and naval forces, the large arena-like structure leads to the Invasion Pool. Here, an abstracted Higgins landing craft opens onto a beachhead where three detailed sculptures of soldiers struggling toward the shore make the reality of the invasion to free Europe very personal and very moving.  Jets of water randomly erupt noisily from the pool, simulating the intense fire that met the soldiers as they forged through the surf to the beach. Inspired by the true story of one of the “Bedford Boys,” one warrior lies dead in the sand, his Bible sprawled by his side.

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Opposite the invasion pool, another sculpture dramatically depicts soldiers scaling a steep cliff face.  One soldier is reaching down to help his brother.  One soldier is falling backward.  Another soldier has reached the top, leading to the final section of the memorial: the massive 44 foot high Victory Arch engraved with the name “Overlord.”  Here the scene becomes quiet and poignant.  A simple sculpture of a fallen soldier’s rifle planted in the soil and topped by his helmet, stands in the shadow of the Victory Arch.

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Although not a museum, the memorial offers an abundance of information.  In the Visitor Center, a 20 minute video gives an overview of the extraordinary planning and actual footage from the invasion. Plaques throughout tell the stories of every unit, every leader, even key figures not in the battle.  A rewarding educational activity might be for a student to pick a division that fought at Normandy and try to find it amongst the hundreds. Those left behind at home to work, support, and pray are not forgotten.

The D-Day Memorial was a sobering, moving experience for our family. Number One Son, a history buff, snapped picture after picture on his iPhone giving his Instagram followers a history lesson. The Daughter focused on the plaques in the planning area, and thoroughly enjoyed the garden surroundings.  We all found the Invasion Pool stunningly effective.  Arriving home, we found the movie, Ike: Countdown to D-Day, available on Netflix, very helpful for furthering our understanding of the planning of this massive invasion.

The Memorial is an open air structure with very little shelter although there were plenty of benches in the garden situated under a variety of small trees. We were there in July, and it was quite warm.  Autumn would be a stunning time to visit when the surrounding mountains are vibrant with colorful leaves!

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The National D-Day Museum is just down the road from other historical and recreational sites like the equally sobering Appomattox Battlefield and Museum and the scenic Peaks of Otter located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is well worth the trip. The Memorial takes an hour or two to tour. Afterwards, enjoy lunch at Bedford’s Olde Liberty Station, a “Historic Railway Station Restaurant.”  Number 1 Son claims their Chicken Panini was the best sandwich ever!  (And he would know…)

The Memorial is open daily except for major holidays, and is operated by a non-profit foundation, so is not affected by government shutdowns.

This article from Faith Travel Focus, highlights the story of DDay and how it affected  Bedford, VA.

This post was written by Mr. Garner!

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