What if you can’t make it to Normandy this summer?
Well, there are (No?) alternative sites that you might consider visiting that are closer to home. Both provide an excellent way to commemorate D-Day that are informative and can be driven to.
The National D-Day Memorial:
The memorial is located outside the southwest Virginia town of Bedford for a reason. One of the regiments chosen to spearhead the attack on Omaha Beach was the 116th IR of the 29th U.S. Infantry Division, a unit created from the National Guards of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and District of Columbia. Inducted into federal service on February 3, 1941, the division was extensively trained in the United States before being deployed to England in October 1942. After what seemed like an interminable wait, Overlord planners chose the untested 116th Infantry to represent the National Guard in the first waves at Omaha Beach.
Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th IR, now attached to the 1st Infantry Division for the assault, numbered 34 young men from Bedford (pop. 3,200) in its ranks. These GIs became famous after D-Day as the Bedford Boys because 19 of them gave their lives on Omaha Beach; four Bedford Boys were killed later in the battle, two more from other companies. (For a closer look at the fate of Company A, see our guide, “The D-Day Assault.”) The last of the Bedford Boys, Lt. Ray Nance died in April 2009 at the age of 94.
The 88-acre Memorial, dedicated in 2001 by then President George W. Bush, contains a wealth of exhibits pertaining to D-Day, including a mock-up of a small section of Omaha Beach and numerous commemorative statues and memorials. Throughout the year the Memorial staff conducts programs related to D-Day; tours of the Memorial are sometimes conducted by D-Day veterans and will be as long as they are with us.
More detailed information is found on the Memorial’s excellent web site, www.dday.org. Phone: 1-800-351-DDAY or 540-556-3329; email: email@example.com.
Bedford is located between Roanoke and Lynchburg off U.S. highway 221/460.
The National WWII Museum:
Largely the inspiration of historian Stephen E. Ambrose, then a professor at The University of New Orleans, this museum opened on June 6, 2000 as The National D-Day Museum. A few years later, Congress renamed it The National WWII Museum to better reflect its growth and the enlarged scope of its mission.
Located in central New Orleans, the museum contains exhibits, documents and artifacts relating to all aspects of WWII. Possibly the crowning presentation is the film, “Beyond All Boundaries,” an epic, visual history of the war produced by Tom Hanks and shown on an enormous surround screen in the Solomon Victory Theater. Final Mission: The USS Tang Experience takes visitors on the Tang’s fifth and final combat patrol so they may experience life on an American submarine.
For additional information see the museum’s web site, www.nationalww2museum.org or call 504-528-1944. Basic adult admission to the museum is $22 with additional charges for the special shows.
A visit to either of these sites would be a fine way to celebrate the courage of American service men and women on the 70th anniversary of D-Day and to visit some interesting sections of the country as well. Both have a full program of special events scheduled. We don’t that you will be disappointed with either the Memorial or the Museum or, for that matter, any of the many other military museums scattered around the nation.
Stephen T. Powers