Posted by: faithtravelfocus | May 31, 2011

D-Day Plus 67: WWII Events Highlight National Story

A Bible was all this Bedford boy's family got back from the D-Day invasion.

The soldier on the beach is dying. Falling out of his rucksack is a Bible which is the only thing his family got back from that fateful June 6, 1944 day on aNormandy beach. 

The “Death on Shore” sculpture is one absorbing detail in the 88-acre National D-Day Memorial located in Bedford, Va. Inspired by a local son whose Bible was returned to his family though his remains never were, it is one story in an array of many associated with this WWII monument that’s in the spotlight again this coming weekend.

 Though the origin of the claim is unclear, the small town of Bedford between Roanoke and Lynchburg is said to have lost more boys per capita in D-Day than any other community in the country. So the U.S. Congress supported placement of the memorial in the town that had about 3,000 population in 1944. The site acknowledges D-Day battles that launched Europe’s liberation in World War II, and the horrific loss of life (over 4,000 Allied soldiers) it cost. There are 21 headstones in theBedford cemetery engraved with the same date: June 6, 1944.

 Several events next week will commemorate the 67th anniversary of D-Day, 1944, and the 10th anniversary of the memorial’s dedication in 2001. Details are at the website.  Normal hours are every day except Monday, from 10 to 5, and guided tours are available. 

Of particular note is the “Flames of Memory” event Saturday night, June 4th  The flames are luminaries – hundreds of them – that are placed within the memorial to pay tribute to those who fell on D-Day and all who have served the country. Taps and other music for the occasion will be offered by the 29th Division band. Purchase of a luminaries benefits memorial operations. 

Raymond Hoback was the soldier whose Bible was found by another and returned to his family with a letter of explanation. Raymond’s brotherBedfordwas also killed at D-Day, handing that family two casualties from the invasion. Their sister, Lucille, is still living inBedfordand has her brother’s Bible. 

Invasion plaza at National D-Day Memorial

In all, 22 Bedford boys died in the invasion – two-thirds of the 30 mostly farm boys who left Bedford behind to serve. Their story inspired Alex Kershaw to write a book “The Bedford Boys.” All are all dead now, but the first Bedford resident to learn the devastating casualty news still lives. Elizabeth Teass, now age 82, was the teenageWestern Unionteletype operator at Green’s Drug Store. Her July 16 memories are about how the machine began to clatter with one dreadful message after another about the Bedford losses. 

Other pieces of the monumental D-Day story are at the memorial site in three plazas. Reynold’s Garden, the first section, symbolizes the planning and preparation for the invasion. The second level depicts the landing and fighting invasion. It includes the invasion pool that contains beach obstacles placed in the surf by German forces, and a sculpture representing the Higgins craft used in the invasion. Intermittent jets of water spurt from the pool, replicated sporadic gunfire.EstesPlazais the last section, and celebrates victory. Its centerpiece is the 44-foot high arch which represents victory for Operation Overlord. 

When you call on Bedford and the National D-Day Memorial, consider other attractions in the surrounding region such as PoplarForest- Thomas Jefferson’s retreat home – the scenic and historic Blue Ridge Parkway, Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington’s monument; and Smith Mountain Lake, a 20,000- acre recreation haven. And don’t miss the flavors from Homestead Creamery, maker of product that could win the world’s best ice cream award. 

For more on what to do in and around Bedford, visit here.

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  1. A little trivia and an explanation for the high D-Day casualties from Bedford.

    One of the two divisions to land in the first wave at Omaha Beach was the 29th ID, formed from National Guard units from Maryland and Virginia. Since the 29th had not seen action prior to June 6, it still maintained somewhat of a geographical orientation to some of its units. A field artillery unit came from this town; an engineer unit from another; etc.

    It happened that A Company of the 116th Infantry Regiment had many soldiers from Bedford.

    A Co/116th Inf was scheduled to be the very first unit to land on the extreme right end of Omaha Beach, a section called Dog Green. It was directly in front of a draw or “exit” near the village of Vierville. They were the first to go ashore in the teeth of a heavily defended German position.

    Co A/116th Inf was virtually wiped out at the very outset of the battle. This explains the disproportional D-Day casualties from this one small town.

    The movie “Saving Private Ryan” is fictional, but it paints a vivid picture of what it was like that morning. That first 15 minutes of the battle-scene of the D-Day landing was supposed to have been located at Dog Green. You can see the shoulder patches of the 29th ID among the Rangers who were the focus of the movie. In real life, those were the Bedford Boys. As the saying goes, “It may not be totally accurate, but it is true.”

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