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Visit the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia

You have entered a time warp. An American soldier is waist-deep in the English Channel, holding his rifle above his head. Another pair crouches as they assault the beach from a landing craft. Another lies dead.

The water splashes from artillery shell strikes as Rangers climb up a tower. One appears to be falling. Another has successfully summited the tower and is shouting orders.

Overlooking the amphitheater at the National D-Day Memorial
A Ranger reaches the top only to be met by a memorial to the fallen.

You realize that you’re at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. one of the war’s most significant dates. The “time warp” is actually The Beach Tableau, the climax of the National D-Day Memorial. 

We visited on a cold, rainy October day, and rain spots dot many of my images. The D-Day invaders endured much worse weather. No tableau could possibly replicate the chaos and carnage of that crucial day in World War II. Nevertheless, the spitting water jets give depth to any imagination. The day’s soaking rain magnified the effect.

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How to travel to Bedford

Bedford, population 6,800, is 4 hours southwest of Washington, D.C., and 4.5 hours west of Virginia Beach. Near the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s halfway between Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia. Ride Amtrak from Washington to either city. Fly into Roanoke-Blacksburg International Airport (RNK) or Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH).

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Table of contents

Why the memorial is in Bedford | Bedford Boys on Omaha Beach | First to fight | Notifying Bedford | Know before you go | Best time to visit | D-Day’s importance | Preparing for victory — or defeat | The memorial’s story | Things to do | Homefront tour | Eat and stay | Book your trip

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Vintage photo of soldiers in a landing craft approaching Omaha Beach
Landing Craft, Infantry 94 noses onto the beach. It carried soldiers with members of the 116th Infantry. Note the hedgehogs (beach obstacles). (Courtesy National World War II Museum)

Why the D-Day Memorial is in Bedford

Early that morning, the First and 29th Infantry Divisions assaulted Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. Forty-four men of the 29th’s Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, were from Bedford, Virginia. At that time, Bedford’s population was about 3,200 people. Before the day’s end, Company A lost 19 of the Bedford Boys. Another Bedford Boy from Company F also died. The high casualty rate meant that the Town of Bedford suffered the highest capacity loss of any American city.

Another 100 Bedford men had lost their lives by the war’s end.  

Therefore, Congress decided that Bedford would represent the sacrifice of the Allied forces on that day. They authorized the National D-Day Memorial in the beautiful town at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Roxie’s reliable report: If New York City had suffered the same percentage as Bedford’s loss, 46,000 men would have died.

Related: Hero Street USA, Silvis, Illinois, suffered the highest casualty per capita of any 20th-century American neighborhood.

A pair of soldiers exit a landing craft at the National D-Day Memorial
Wary soldiers exit their landing craft in The Beach Tableau.

The Bedford Boys on Omaha Beach

Company A commander, Captain Taylor Fellers, was pessimistic about his men’s fate. He told Lieutenant Ray Nance, “We’ll all be killed.” Fellers was nearly right. Company A lost 90 percent of its men to either death or wounds. Fellers insisted that Company A arrive at Omaha Beach on time. It did, but he didn’t survive to lead it past the beach.

All of Fellers’ concerns proved to be valid.

Unfortunately for the Bedford Boys, Omaha was the biggest invasion obstacle. It was the most heavily defended, making casualties higher. Planners anticipated that pre-invasion bombing runs would create craters to provide cover for the ground troops. Instead, the bombardment fell further inland, making the beach a killing ground. The First Division endured about 2,000 casualties. Most of them came during the landing’s first hour. Many injured men drowned beneath the weight of their 80 pounds of gear.

Bad luck also played a part. The experienced German 352nd Infantry Division was training there and reinforced the defenses. In spite of these challenges, the First and 29th Divisions gained a small foothold by day’s end. The 29th Division’s Rangers assaulted German gun emplacements at the top of the Pointe du Hoc cliff. However, the horrible weather helped. Allied meteorologists forecasted a small window of opportunity on June 6th that German meteorologists missed. German commander Erwin Rommel went home for his wife’s birthday.

By nightfall, the Allies pushed past all of the beaches’ defenses. The successful invasion trapped the Nazi empire in a vise between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union in the east. Less than a year later, on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered.

Why the Bedford Boys were first to fight at Omaha

General Charles Gerhardt said, “They showed the characteristics necessary on that particular day. Who were these boys? The record of the 29th goes back to 1620, through the regimental history of Virginia troops, and their record has been unequaled.”

Brown and gold Omaha Beach D-Day Landing Sites map
Where the 116th Infantry came ashore on June 6, 1944. Company A landed at Dog Green, while Company F landed on the Easy Green-Dog Red boundary

Notifying Bedford about the Bedford Boys’ fates

Six weeks later, Elizabeth Teass arrived at the Western Union telegraph office in Green’s Drug Store. When ready, she notified the Roanoke office. Roanoke replied, “We have casualties.”

The seemingly endless messages all began, “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret….”

“Everyone’s heart was broken,” she recalled.

The SHAEF sword garden in front of the amphitheater and Overlord Arch at the National D-Day Memorial
Approaching the amphitheater

Know before you go to the D-Day Memorial

  • The entire memorial is outside except for the Bedford Area Welcome Center at the entrance on Burks Hill Road.
  • Purchase admission ahead of time to save. The memorial is a Blue Star Museum, offering World War II veterans and serving military personnel and families free admission from Armed Forces Day to Labor Day. 
  • Download the app with a site map, memorial brick and plaque information, plus more.
  • Please talk quietly and refrain from running or horseplay. This is a place for remembrance and reflection.
  • The memorial is fully accessible and has a few wheelchairs available for guests. Mobility scooters and service animals are permitted at the memorial.
  • Pets are not permitted within the monument’s perimeter. However, the memorial does have some kennel space available.
  • It’s also a KultureCity Certified Inclusive Sensory Venue. In the welcome center, you can borrow a sensory bag with fidget tools and headphones.
  • The memorial offers guided tours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., leaving from the gift shop. Call 540-586-3329 to check tour availability. However, paying visitors are free to wander the memorial’s grounds. Allow about two hours. 
Trees in front of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a cloudy day at the National D-Day Memorial
Fall in Bedford, Virginia

The best time to visit the D-Day Memorial

The Virginia Mountains are especially beautiful during the spring and fall. During the summer, the memorial has special events on D-Day and patriotic holidays.

Every D-Day anniversary, Bedford Boys’ families lay memorial wreaths at the Bedford County Courthouse. The courthouse bell rings 20 times at 6:44 p.m., to honor each Bedford Boy who died on D-Day. Bedford church bells ring along with those in churches worldwide at 6:44 p.m. local time.

First-year Virginia Military Institute cadets (known as rats) visit the memorial annually. George C. Marshall, who was Army Chief of Staff during World War II, graduated from VMI.

Attend the touching Flames of Memory event each December when thousands of luminarias honor the thousands who died during Operation Overlord.

Why D-Day is important

D-Day was one of world history’s most significant battles. Why? Because the Allied armed forces could not defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazi empire without invading Europe across the English Channel. The planners had two options. 1) Attack across the Pas de Calais, the channel’s narrowest point; or 2) invade the beaches of Normandy. However, the German high command expected the Allies to strike on the shortest route. Instead, Allied planners chose the invasion of Normandy, called Operation Overlord. The Norman coast lacked harbors, so the Allies created portable ones, called Mulberries

A vast deception. Operation Fortitude, successfully tricked the German High Command into expecting the Pas de Calais.

If the Allies had not conquered the Nazi empire, their genocidal ideology would continually threaten world peace.

Related: Learn more about D-Day at the First Infantry Division Museum near Junction City, Kansas.

Roxie’s reliable report: The “D” in D-Day stands for “Day.” 

Preparing for victory — or defeat

Amphibious landings on hostile coasts are some of warfare’s riskiest operations.  Eisenhower issued an encouraging message to the D-Day troops. He called their endeavor “the Great Crusade” and ended by saying, “I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

However, Eisenhower prepared for defeat. He wrote a statement and tucked it into his wallet. “…”My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

As the statement shows, Eisenhower was a meticulous planner. Even so, he agreed that no plan survives contact with the enemy. The ordinary soldier and junior officer on the invasion beaches had to adapt and overcome. And they did.

Related: Walk in Eisenhower’s footsteps in his hometown, Abilene, Kansas.

Amphitheater and Overlord Arch at the National D-Day Memorial
Valor, Fidelity, and Sacrifice in front of the Overlord Arch

The Bedford D-Day Memorial’s story

A 2024 British survey found that nearly half of young adults did not know what D-Day was. D-Day veteran J. Robert Slaughter foresaw this outcome. He and others formed the eventual National D-Day Memorial Foundation in 1989. They intended to create a lasting monument to D-Day to educate future generations.

The Town of Bedford offered a 50-acre site. Seven years later, President Bill Clinton designated the National D-Day Memorial. The foundation received no federal funding. 

From groundbreaking to completion

The foundation broke ground a year later, on Veterans Day 1997. The Veteran’s Day ceremony took place on a mixture of Normandy beach sand and Bedford soil. Memorial Day 1999 saw the first sculpture unveiling, and the Overlord Arch started in 2000. President George W. Bush dedicated the memorial on the invasion’s 57th anniversary, June 6, 2001.

Ten thousand people attended 2019’s 75th anniversary of D-Day at the memorial, including a parade of 100 World War II veterans.

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A suffering Ranger loses his grip while climbing Pointe du Hoc at the National D-Day Memorial
The Rangers climb Pointe du Hoc under heavy fire.

What to do at the D-Day Memorial

The memorial takes guests through Operation Overlord’s planning stages to the actual invasion. Plaques tell the operation’s story and list the fallen.

Start at the Bedford Welcome Center. The views include the Peaks of Otter, elevation 4,001 feet, and the National D-Day Memorial. Learn more about area amenities, watch an orientation film, and tour a firefighter exhibit. Wifi is free. Outside, picnic, rock on the covered porch, and take a selfie with the LOVE sign. The D-Day Memorial has three parts, preparing for the invasion, the invasion, and its aftermath.

Dwight Eisenhower's statue stands beneath an English-style garden folly with a map of the Overlord plan in the ceiling
Eisenhower and the Operation Overlord map

​Before D-Day

Our tour began in the English garden, patterned after the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) patch. Busts of Eisenhower’s chief subordinates surround The Supreme Commander, Eisenhower’s seven-foot-tall statue in the folly. A tile mosaic Overlord map covers the folly’s ceiling.

Aeronca Grasshopper airplane with D-Day invasion stripes painted on its wings at the National D-Day Memorial
The Aeronca Grasshopper

During D-Day

An amphitheater surrounds The Beach Tableau. The names of the fallen adorn the amphitheater’s walls. The American dead are listed on one side, with the other Allies’ dead on the other. Circles beside the beach enclose an anchor and bell on one side and an Aeronca L-3 Grasshopper airplane on the other. The circles represent the naval and air attack components. 

Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II, chose the D-Day Memorial as Virginia’s first Gold Star Families Memorial. It stands behind the list of Allied dead. Military families display banners with blue stars representing their service members. When one dies in action, a gold star replaces a blue one. The saluting silhouette carved into the memorial symbolizes the hole left in loved ones’ lives.

Related: See the Gold Star Families Memorial in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

A fallen soldier, a soldier coming ashore with his rifle above his head, and a hedgehog at the National D-Day Memorial
Part of The Beach Tableaux

The massive Overlord Arch towers over it all. It stands 44 feet, six inches high, representing the June 6th date. The alternating color bands on the arch’s crosspiece symbolize the bands on D-Day airplanes. The memorial seal is below the word “Overlord.” 

The bronze Lady of Trévières sculpture with a damaged face at the National D-Day Memorial
The Lady of Trévières

After D-Day

The sculpture Valor, Fidelity, and Sacrifice stands on the arch’s other side. Beginning with the American flag, the 11 other Allied flags wave in alphabetical order. 

The walkway beyond the arch represents the Allies liberating the rest of France. A disfigured statue, The Lady of Trévières, originally honored the 44 men of that French city who died during World War I. After D-Day, shrapnel or a round struck and damaged her head. She represents the fragility of peace. The walkway ends with an American flag and a Purple Heart Monument. 

Medal of Honor Garden at the D-Day Memorial

Four men earned the Congressional Medal of Honor on D-Day. The foundation’s new project is a Medal of Honor Garden to recognize First Lieutenant Jimmie W. Monteith Jr. of Virginia; Private Carlton W. Barrett of New York; Technician Fifth Grade John J. Pinder Jr., and Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., both of Pennsylvania.

Roxie’s reliable report: Roosevelt’s father, President Theodore Roosevelt, earned the Medal of Honor during the Spanish-American War.

Bedford Boys Homefront Tour

Walk in the Bedford Boys’ footsteps on the Homefront Tour. The tour includes the Bedford Boys Tribute Center in the former Green’s Drugstore. Docents provide a 45-minute tour. The teletype that delivered the dreadful news is there, along with a special section for their commander, Captain Fellers. 

Where to eat and stay

Eat where the Bedford Boys left for World War II. Olde Liberty Station preserves the former Norfolk and Western Railroad depot. Beyond its historic location, the restaurant is best known for Harry’s Famous Cheesecakes. The late Harry Leist developed his award-winning cheesecake recipes in the 1980s. Try the Bourbon Pecan Mahi, a grilled hahi filet finished with a sweet bourbon pecan cream sauce.

Ad: Stay at pet-friendly Peaks of Otter Lodge at milepost 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. For more lodging options, see the map below.

Book your trip

Let’s add your trip to your calendar! Roxie’s reliable recommendations will get you ready.

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