June 5, 2008

Bedford to observe 64th Anniversary of D-Day Invasion

The National D-Day Memorial was dedicated on June 6, 2001. Bedford was chosen as the location for the Memorial because the community experienced this country’s severest per capita losses on D-Day.

The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford will observe the 64th  Anniversary of D-Day on Friday, June 6th with a special ceremony at  11 a.m. Program highlights include wreath-laying, recognition of D- Day veterans, guest speakers and music.

Soldiers from the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Brigade Combat  Team, 29th Infantry Division will be on hand to act as escorts for D- Day veterans attending the ceremony. The battalion also has units in  Bedford, Christiansburg and Roanoke.

“It is a real honor for us to escort the D-Day veterans,” said  Maj. Scott Smith, commander of 1st Battalion. “Our Soldiers share  the same 29th Infantry Division patch as those who stormed the beach  of Normandy, and many of these Soldiers have served their country in  Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It is a  tremendous connection that both generations share.”

Dedicated by the President of the United States on 6 June 2001, the National D-Day Memorial exists in tribute to the valor, fidelity, and  sacrifice of the Allied Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The National D- Day Memorial Foundation operates and maintains the Memorial. Its 
educational mission is to preserve the lessons and legacy of D-Day.

One of modern history’s watersheds, D-Day was the climactic engagement of the Second World War. The Allies’ successes on D-Day  foreshadowed the dissolution of Hitler’s Third Reich. Operation  Overlord’s epic scope remains unprecedented. On June 6, 1944, an  Allied Expeditionary Force representing twelve nations launched more  than 5,000 boats and ships, 11,000 aircraft, 28,000 aerial sorties,  and landed 150,000 ground troops.

The D-Day cost was high with more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were  killed or wounded, but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march  across Europe to defeat Hitler.

According to the Memorial’s official web site, Congress warranted  the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford because  it was “emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose  citizen-soldiers served on D-Day.”

Like eleven other Virginia communities, Bedford provided a company of  soldiers (Company A) to the 29th Infantry Division when the National  Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on February 3, 1941.  Some thirty Bedford soldiers were still in that company on D-Day, and  several more from Bedford were in other D-Day companies, including  one who, two years earlier, had been reassigned from the 116th  Infantry to the First Infantry Division.

By day’s end, nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were  dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies.  Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this 
community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses.

Operation Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation  undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. Many of the first young men,  most not yet 20 years old, entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of  equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the  first natural feature offering any protection.

The Memorial has four major components that represent the sweep of D-Day from the early planning and preparation for it, through the  Channel crossing and landing in France, on to the Allied victory and  consolidation on the beaches, and beyond Normandy into the landscape  of postwarEurope. Within those components, visitors encounter a  moving array of small memorials and tributes. Many of those are  brought to life by the figurative sculpture emplaced throughout the 
Memorial.

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