In a town of 3,200, faces are not just recognized, they’re known. Families grow up together. Children play with neighbors as if they are siblings.
This was the case in the small Town of Bedford, Virginia in 1944.
It is why the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II was so impactful for a small town in Virginia’s Blue Ridge that sacrificed so much.
You may have heard of the Bedford Boys - 30 National Guard soldiers from Bedford, VA, who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 - D-Day.
By day's end, 19 of the Bedford soldiers had fallen. Two more died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other companies. Proportionally, the Town of Bedford suffered the nation's severest D-Day losses.
Today, the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford recognizes the significant losses of this small town as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day.
The monument encompasses 88 acres at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and receives an average of 55,000 visitors a year. The grounds are intentionally designed to take visitors on a journey through the history of World War II and honor the sacrifices made throughout the conflict.
On June 6, 2016, the National D-Day Memorial honors the 72nd anniversary of the Normandy invasion by embarking on an entirely new and impactful remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice storming the beaches that morning.
The National D-Day Memorial Foundation is the only institution in the world to research and create a name-by-name listing of D-Day, June 6, fatalities. Over the course of several hours on June 6, 2016, all 2,499 American names will be read.
Foundation organizers describe the day’s events as follows:
“The day’s commemoration events begin at 11:00 a.m. with music by the 29th Division Band, followed by a flyover of an original P-51 Mustang, painted with the Operation Overlord recognition stripes. The ceremony proceeds to pay tribute to valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the D-Day participants, with a D-Day veteran, Norwood Thomas, providing the keynote address, A Paratrooper’s Remembrance.
In addition, a new plaque will be dedicated to commemorate the role of combat medics. General Timothy Williams, Adjutant General of the Virginia National Guard, will also speak.
Afterwards, the crowd will gather at sculpture Homage for our traditional recognition of the D-Day soldiers and to renew our promise never to forget.
Then, beginning at 12:30 p.m., for the first time ever, we will stage a public reading of the names of all 2,499 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and coastguardsmen who lost their lives during the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.
Over the course of a few hours, a team of readers (including staff, volunteers, family members of the fallen, local and regional dignitaries, and others) will alternate to pay tribute to every one of the fallen American heroes from that epic day, with the solemn roll call punctuated by moving and patriotic music from the 29th Division Band.
We believe this long-overdue tribute to those who gave their all on June 6, 1944 will be an event of national and even international significance. Therefore, we are working to arrange a satellite feed for the reading of the names. This will allow viewers across the globe to tune in and experience this moving ceremony, and help to spread the word about our Memorial.”
Admission to the National D-Day Memorial is free on June 6, offering all visitors the opportunity to honor the sacrifices made by the Bedford Boys, the 2,499 American soldiers who perished on the beaches that morning, and all fallen soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Following the ceremony, visitors are encouraged to stop by the Bedford County Department of Tourism & Welcome Center to learn more about the area and its offerings.