I’ve been thinking about how to usher in Memorial Day weekend this year. For a lot of Americans, this is the first official weekend of summer, a three-day breather that brings with it cookouts, picnics, beer, and beaches. But for many, many more, this weekend is about honoring those who’ve lost their lives serving our country. I think it’s important not to lose sight of the real reason Monday is a holiday, even while we enjoy the long weekend with our families and friends (or, if you’re like me, the blissful, oft-elusive heaven that is bed).
Bedford is a small community in rural Virginia. It’s surrounded by mountains. It’s a nice town, idyllic even, as small towns in Virginia go. A lot of people probably pass right by it, seeking the larger destinations of Roanoke and Lynchburg. But they shouldn’t, because they’re missing one of the best monuments to courage and sacrifice that this country has to offer, and it’s right here in Virginia. So, I’ll take a moment, before I explain why in detail, to say that every Virginian (or, you know, every American) with any appreciation for history, courage, sacrifice, or freedom should visit the National D-Day Memorial.
The first question people usually ask me when I make this suggestion (read: declaration) is why a memorial for such a tremendous undertaking would be located in a small town like Bedford. Here’s why – Bedford lost more of its boys, per capita, than any other community in America on D-Day, and the survivors took pride in making sure this monument stands in their honor, and in honor of all the men who died that day. Nineteen men from Bedford – nineteen – lost within the first day of the invasion, and four more in the next several days of the campaign.
You can read about them here: Why Bedford?. Or, if you’d like a little more detail, you can purchase the book The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw. I would encourage you to do so.
The memorial project was founded by Robert (“Bob”) Slaughter, a D-Day veteran and Bedford Boy himself. It now stands on 88 acres overlooking the mountains. It walks visitors through the D-Day invasion from its start, strategized and spear-headed by Eisenhower, to the Normandy landing, complete with simulated gunfire, to its finish, a grand display of the flags of all participating nations capped by a victory arch and watched over by the Lady of Trévières, a replica of a French World War I monument aux morts damaged by shrapnel. Like her sister statue, Lady Liberty, she guards and protects, but she also mourns so great a sacrifice.
That’s the balance the National D-Day Memorial strikes, and strikes perfectly. It celebrates a great victory, but also remembers the great cost. It honors the dead, but it doesn’t glorify their loss.
That’s what Memorial Day is all about, isn’t it? Some soldiers never come home. They’ll never drink a beer on the beach, or eat a hot dog at a family barbecue. The least we can do for them, especially on a holiday designed specifically for the purpose and regardless of our politics and other nonsense, is to celebrate their lives and honor their sacrifices.
**A couple of notes on this post:
- If you’d like to learn more about the National D-Day Memorial, and/or (and?!) plan your visit, the website can be found here: https://www.dday.org/
- All of the photos in this post are courtesy of Dr. Thomas Carter, who kindly allowed me to use them in order to write something I don’t know if I would actually want him to grade…