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Friday, May 30, 2014

Getting Ready For D-Day (part 1)

Good morning, everyone! 
British Glider Units Preparing for D-Day

We are getting close - just one week away - from the 70th Anniversary of D-Day!  We are busy, busy here around the site making sure everything is ready to go for the big day.  Over the next few days, we will bring you just little tidbits of information to prepare for D-Day.  I want to introduce our guest blogger this week Mr. Daniel Cordes.  Daniel is a graduate student from Liberty University who is interning at the Memorial this summer.  Over the last few weeks, he and other interns have been busy researching and creating exhibits which will be on display on June 6th.  Below is just a little taste of what you guys can look forward to seeing on June 6th.  See you there!  


June 6, 2014 is the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, codenamed Operation OVERLORD, at the D-Day Memorial located in Bedford Virginia.  We will be hosting a ceremony that will honor the men who fought and died for our country and helped to ensure the fall of Hitler’s evil regime. We will have several exhibits on site along with the sites own impressive collection of statues and plaques that describe the events that occurred prior to, during, and after D-Day.

C-47 Skytrain with Invasion Stripes
Some of the highlights to look out for during this important anniversary are the dedication of a new statue on the west side of the Memorial. The statue will commemorate the Bedford Boys and pay homage to them and their sacrifice. This is an important piece for the memorial, as the memorial is located in Bedford due the fact that Bedford lost more people per capita than any other city or town in America. The days events will also include Veteran Oral History Stations, a USO show featuring the 29th Division Band and a ‘Salute to Sinatra’ at 1:30 PM, Displays by Living Historians, Flyovers by a P-51 and a C-47, and even a Parachute jump by the Golden Knights. All this and more will be showcased during this historical event.

One particular display that we here at the Memorial are looking forward to sharing are our displays commemorating the efforts of all the service branches - Army, Navy, and the Air Force as it existed then. Today, we will be sharing a bit of the research we have conducted on the Air Force. First, of all the display will not be focusing solely on the efforts and exploits of the fighters and bombers that participated on D-Day, but also on those exploits of the Airborne units, and even the incredibly brave men that were part of the glider divisions.

Pre-Invasion Bombing Run at Pointe du Hoc
Today, we will be focusing a bit on the bombers and what they did prior to D-Day. Most people would agree that the planning and preparation for any event or action is the most important part of any event, for without preparation and planning any event would be thrown into chaos, whether it be a birthday party or even the largest amphibious assault in history. The bombers role on D-Day was not to be their traditional role of strategic bombing, in which the heavy bomber crews had become accustomed to performing. The allied air commanders resented and fought against the suggestion that their forces be used to strike tactical targets, and even suggested that the heavy bombers and their crews could not achieve the accuracy that tactical bombing required. Training and practice would prove otherwise as the bomber crews demonstrated that they were indeed capable of achieving the accuracy requirements that Allied Command expected of them. Unfortunately, on D-Day the weather was poor so bomber accuracy suffered accordingly.

To learn more about the bomber role on D-Day and the other elements of the Air Force be sure to stop by on Friday June 6, 2014 for this and other displays.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Visiting Normandy

Hello Everyone!

Sainte-Mere-Eglise Church, 1944.
The 70th Anniversary of D-Day is fast approaching! In just a few weeks, we will all gather to commemorate the veterans we lost and those who survived. Throughout my time at the Memorial, I have come across a number of people who visited Normandy and each time I am anxious to hear what they thought of the area and the local people. I had the privilege of traveling to Normandy as part of a three week Study Abroad trip and I have developed my own opinions of the area.

Sainte-Mere-Eglise Church, June 2012.
Thus far, traveling to Normandy has been the greatest experience of my life. I have traveled to Europe before but nothing was quite like this trip and I believe it has everything to do with the people and the history of the area. The legacy and the impact that Operation Overlord has on the northern part of France is still seen today and is a major part of their local history. Within a few days, we visited Sainte-Mere-Eglise Church, Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, the American Military War Cemetery, and the town of St. Lo.

What struck me the most was how much they honor World War II, D-Day specifically, all around the area. Almost every locality has their specific dedication site or memorial. History is alive and well in the area, even the ‘ruins’ of the actual landing sites. Except for Omaha Beach, every landing site has ruminants of the invasion, from the German bunkers with guns still present to the craters left behind by Allied bombs. They even left barbed wire attached in some spots. The only identifier on Omaha Beach is a monument, resembling a bunker, honoring the National Guard units that landed on that particular beach. 
Omaha Beach, June 2012.

Now, looking back, I am not sure what I expected to see left on that beach, but I remember feeling surprised there was not more, compared to all the other sites. The beach is flat and serene and there are a series of homes along the beach line. It looked as though life on the beach just picked up where it had left off and the battle that had taken place was in the very distant past. I was somewhat saddened to see it like that, especially because all the other places were so well preserved. But it was nice to see that even though such a tragic event, and a horrific number of men lost their lives on that beach, the area was able to move forward and honor in their own way.

That is what is so wonderful about the area; each place has their unique way of remembrance. It makes you feel a personal connection instead of an overall interpretation of the history. If you ever have the chance to travel abroad, I highly
Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944
recommend spending time in Normandy, France. Not only is it a beautiful area, but also it is well worth the experience to see the D-Day sites. It was an honor to part of such an amazing trip.

Take care,

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

D-Day Through the Decades: 1994 Commemoration

Good morning everyone,

Well here we are, one month away from the big day.  Hold on, let me try that again I don’t think I got the full range of emotion in there.   WE ARE ONE MONTH AWAY FROM D-DAY!  Even though it is a little hectic around the site, everything is starting to fall into place as we move through the final stages of planning for the 70th Anniversary. 

For all of you planning on coming to the anniversary ceremony, be sure to stay up to date on parking and other essential information by visiting the 70th Event webpage at  Gates will open to the public around 8:30AM, please make sure to arrive at the satellite parking lots early enough to get the shuttle bus to the site.  We do not want anyone to miss this very special ceremony!
50th Anniversary Color Guard

With one month left, we have made it to the 50th Anniversary of D-Day – June 6, 1994.  This is a date which is dear to us here at the Memorial and one that is important for where we are today.  Again, I am going to turn to our founder, the late Sgt John Robert “Bob” Slaughter for the words to describe the events taking place in Normandy when he walked along the sands of Omaha Beach with President Bill Clinton.

By 1993, we still had no memorial, and figured the idea was DOA – dead on arrival.  Then, again, a miracle happened.  June 6, 1994, was the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day.  Public acknowledgement still was weak, but with a half-century now gone by, the Department of Defense had decided on a “last” great commemoration for D-Day veterans.  Many veterans and officials would be gathering in Normandy for the anniversary.  I, for one, wanted to be there.  The 29th Division Association assembled 150 veterans and their families – ten busloads – to make the trip to France.

The most important event of the trip for me, and for the future of the D-Day Memorial, turned out to be a forty-five minute stroll that I took with President Clinton on Omaha Beach.  I had received a phone call from the White House, informing me that I had been selected to represent the 29th Division as one of three escorts for the president at Omaha Beach….

At 9 a.m., June 6, the big day, the White House driver met us at the hotel, precisely on time.  The preliminary ceremony was not until 2:30 p.m., so why did we need such an early start?  We soon found out.  The driver’s instructions were to proceed through Bayeus.  Our military vehicle immediately ran into gridlock traffic, and encountered many checkpoints….The master of ceremonies was Walter Cronkite, who began by describing to the hushed throng how he flew over the fleet in an American bomber early on D-Day.  Following remarks were made by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General John M. Shalikashveli and Captain Joe Dawson, who then introduced President Clinton.

The president’s message was a stirring tribute to all D-Day veterans. “On these beaches the forces of freedom turned the tide to the twentieth century,” he said.  “Let us not forget when they were young, these men saved the world!”  After the speeches, the president’s handlers whisked Dawson, Ehlers, and me to the path leading to the steep steps down Omaha Beach.  Clinton began to exit, shaking hands with the front row veterans and those bold enough to reach over the front row for a touch and a handshake.  First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first to reach the three escorts.  She shook hands and thanked each of us for serving our country.  She said to me, “Thank you so much for what you did.”  I replied, “Thank you, Mrs. Clinton, for coming."
Slaughter (on far left) walking along Omaha Beach with President Clinton
Brent Blakely reminded me that I was to walk on the president’s right, Dawson on the left, and Ehlers to the left of Dawson.  When the path narrowed at the steps, I was to step back and let Ehlers move to the president’s right.  While walking, we were to talk about our respective roles on D-Day….

I can only hope that the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day meant half as much to the President Bill Clinton as it did to Walter Ehlers, Joe Dawson, all the other D-Day veterans, and me.  That unforgettable stroll down the beach with two bona fide World War II heroes and the most powerful leader on earth changed me forever, and will always remain a highlight of my life.  The walk brought back chilling memories of 1944 that will never go away.  All the attention focused on the anniversary also gave me hope that others might finally be willing to remember as well.

President Clinton addressing the crowd on June 6, 1994
And remember we will.  In November 1994, it was officially announced that Bedford, Virginia would be the  home to the National D-Day Memorial - a place to remember the fallen and educate future generations about what happened along the Normandy coast on that longest day.  I leave you with these final words from President Clinton’s D-Day address to the US Army Rangers gathered at Pointe du Hoc on the morning of June 6, 1994.  These words ring as true today in the hearts of every staff person and volunteer at the Memorial as they did 20 years ago as we work every day to tell others about the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice made by all of these soldiers, sailors, and airmen almost 70 years ago:  We are the children of your sacrifice. We are the sons and daughters you saved from tyranny's reach. We grew up behind the shield of the strong alliances you forged in blood upon these beaches, on the shores of the Pacific, and in the skies above. We flourished in the nation you came home to build. The most difficult days of your lives bought us 50 years of freedom. You did your job; now we must do ours. Let us begin by teaching our young people about the villainy that started this war and the valor that ended it. Let us carry on the work you began here.

Until next time, 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rainy Days Have us Dreaming of Sunshine and Summer (Camps)

Good morning, everyone!

Sorry for the long absence - it has been especially busy around the Memorial over the past few weeks with our first living history event of the season (Prelude to Invasion), Homeschool Day, and preparations for the 70th.  Working with all the school groups that come to the site, I can tell that summer is almost here.  Students are already talking about the end of the school year and what plans they have for the summer.  Speaking of plans, we are in the midst of planning our annual Growing up in WWII Summer Day Camp.  

Registration opens TODAY for the National D-Day Memorial's Summer Day Camp.  From June 25th-27th, fourth to sixth grade students will be able to explore various aspects of life during World War II.  Students will be immersed in history through interactive activities, crafts, math, and science.  They will be challenged to come up with a plan for D-Day and have to follow clues around the site to solve a puzzle.  This season students will be creating their own exhibits to show off what they have learned to parents, family members, and D-Day staff and volunteers. 

Space is limited!  Download our registration packet today to reserve your child's spot in this fun-filled, educational summer camp.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the education department via phone at 540-587-3617 or e-mail to 

We look forward to seeing you this summer!!

Until next time,