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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Band of Marauders

Hello All,

Please join us this Thursday (2/26) for the second installment of our Lunchbox Lecture Series with President April Cheek-Messier. Explore the extraordinary life of Eugene Bullard, the first African-American pilot and spy in World War I. The lecture will be held at the Bedford Welcome Center Community Room, promptly at noon until 1 PM. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. For more information, please call the office at (540) 586-3329.

On this day, 71 years ago, Major General Frank Merrill led a guerrilla style campaign through the northern areas of Burma. Nicknamed ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, the unit’s purpose was to engage in a “long-range penetration mission” agreed upon by both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1942.

Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill directing troops.
The unit’s objective would comprise of cutting Japanese communications and supply lines, and to essentially create chaos within the enemy’s lines. The idea of such a daring mission was to prepare a vantage point for General Joseph Stillwell’s Chinese American Force to reopen the Burma Road, which would reopen a major supply channel back into China.

Since a mission such as this had never been done before, a ‘wanted’ ad was sent out, under the president’s permission, to attract soldiers to volunteer for a ‘dangerous and hazardous mission’. The US military knew their objective would be extremely difficult to obtain and volunteers were vital. The sheer volume of stateside soldiers, nearly 3,000 men, who volunteered created the 5307th Composite Unit, code named “Galahad”, which would ultimately be remembered as Merrill’s Marauders.
Merrill's Marauder's trudging through the Burma jungle.

Training for this unique mission took place in the jungles of India, where Brig. Gen. Merrill taught his soldiers the art of guerrilla warfare. The unit was split into six combat units each with 400 men, Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. The remaining 600 men were to stay in India to coordinate airdrops of supplies to the men fighting.

On February 24, 1944, the Burmese campaign began with a 1,000-mile walk through thick jungle without artillery support. Carrying their supplies on their backs and on mules, and only being resupplied by airdrops, the men withstood five major engagements with the enemy, and nearly 30 minor engagements. Merrill’s Marauders were so successful at confusing and disrupting the Japanese; they were able to capture the Myitkyina Airfield in the process. By that engagement, only 200 soldiers, of the original total, were present to take the field. A week later, on August 10, 1944, the unit was disbanded with a total of 130 men left. Out of the 2,750 men to enter Burma at the start of the mission, only two made it through without hospitalization of major wounds or illness.
Soldiers taking a brief rest in the jungle.
The mission was so physically grueling, the surviving Marauders had to be evacuated to hospitals and soon as humanly possible. The men diagnosed with “Accumulation of Everything”, which included exhaustion, tropical diseases, and malnutrition, to name a few. The unit was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation, currently known as the Presidential Unit Citation, in July 1944. Each soldier was also awarded the Bronze Star, which was extremely rare for an entire unit to receive. 
  These heroic men battled impossible odds, sustained devastating losses, and yet managed to succeed in their objective. Without their miraculous efforts, the course of the war would have taken a destructive turn.

Take care, 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Winter Lecture Series: Part Deux

 Hello All,

Snowy morning on Smith Mountain Lake, 2.17.15

Gi Jive 2015
I hope you all are enjoying our recent snowstorm! Just a reminder, the National D-day Memorial will be closed until Thursday, and possibly later, due to the current weather conditions. We want everyone to remain safe and warm while a very large portion of Virginia thaws out. Despite the snow and ice being treacherous at times, one cannot help but admire its beauty.

GI Jive table decor, 2015
I would also like to send out a HUGE thank you to all those who could attend the GI Jive this past Saturday, Valentine’s Day, and to the Trivium Estate for allowing us to host our event at your gorgeous location. The Jive was absolutely dazzling and could not have been more enjoyable! The evening was full of laughter, love, and fun and I hope all those who were in attendance this year will join us again next year! You definitely won’t want to miss out on all the excitement.

Our next event will be the second installment of our Lunchbox Lecture series entitled, “The Black Swallow of Death: The Life and Exploits of the First African American Pilot in Uniform” and will be held on Thursday, February 26th, beginning at noon until 1 PM. The lecture will take place, once again, at the Bedford Welcome Center’s Community Room and will be free admission, though donations are greatly appreciated.

Eugene Bullard
The lecture will explore the enthralling history of the first African-American pilot and spy in World War I, Eugene Bullard. Visitors will be able to sit back and enjoy a riveting presentation by the D-Day Memorial Foundation’s President, April Cheek-Messier, as she gives a detailed slideshow of Bullard’s life and accomplishments. Not only did Bullard have an exceptional reputation as a pilot and spy, he became a professional boxer, musician, nightclub owner, and war hero while in Europe, where he spent the rest of his life. Bullard also received a total of fifteen decorations by the French government for his service in both World War conflicts.

You will not want to miss out on this fascinating second winter lecture. Seating is based on a first come, first serve basis, and is usually filled rather quickly. If inclement weather should arise, please call our office for more information at (540) 586-3329.

Take Care,

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Love

Hello All,

Valentine Cards for servicemen in World War II
Happy Valentine’s Day! Can you feel the love in the air? In a few short hours, 130 people will be enjoying the National D-Day Memorials Annual GI Jive Dance at the stunning Trivium Estate. The night is sure to be memorable. 

70 years ago, many cheerless sweethearts were spending Valentine’s Day on their own for, in some cases, the fourth year in a row. Even though the Allies were gaining an advantage in Europe; many months of fighting were still ahead of the battle hardened men regardless. To make matters worse for both parties, the German Army had nothing left to lose and thus began a fierce campaign to halt the Allies from entering deeper into Germany, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Soldiers struggled in their attempts to keep in touch with their families and loved ones back home, as did those on the home-front, but communication was extremely limited by that point in the war. As if being alone for the holidays was not already bad enough, lovers on either side of the pond had no way of knowing if their significant others were doing, or even if they were surviving. They had no choice but to wait for the next word. 

A woman saying farewell to her soldier, 1943.
Love stories from the 1940s era have always inspired me to be thankful for what I have today. One particular story I came across in the news makes me profoundly aware of how difficult it would have been for young love to survive amidst a global conflict and technological difficulties of the time. Now and again our generation forgets the ease of which we communicate with one another. We have taken for granted our fortunes, but history is a reminder of what we should be thankful for in the world today.
Betty Hove and John Grosch were two teenage sweethearts who were separated prematurely by the duties of war. Before a mature love could blossom, John enlisted into the Navy and was unable to stay connected with Betty.  
Betty Hove as a young woman

John and Betty met in Santa Monica, California while John was working for a local grocery store. Betty had a feeling this boy was special the first time she laid eyes on him, she thought, “He was just so sweet. They don’t make them like him anymore.” Both were absolutely smitten with each other, so much so that Betty would visit the store multiple times a day to talk with John and after his shift, he would take her for a long walk back to her home. Despite his strong emotions for Betty, John could not disregard his duty to his country.  Shortly after their first meeting, John enlisted in the Navy and had to prepare for his new occupation. Because their romance was so new, John left Betty with only his name and his picture, but no address to stay connected. Once he left, Betty would not hear from him for most of her life, until now. 

Betty continued on with her life, knowing it would be foolhardy to love a vanished man. She married twice in the last six decades and currently resides in Idaho with the family she has created. But when her second husband passed away, Betty could not help but think about John. All of the unanswered questions came flooding back to her. She had many unanswered questions since she was never able to find out whether or not he survived the war or, if he did, where he settled down. Betty’s good friend took on the task of researching his whereabouts, utilizing the technological advances we have today, and discovered he was alive and well in Georgia. 

Betty and John reunited after 70 years, Valentine's Day, 2012
At 85 years old, Betty reconnected with John, 87, reaching out to him by sending a Christmas card. He immediately reciprocated with a phone call on New Year’s Day. The two have been in constant contact since, usually talking at least eight times a day, and made plans to get together for the second time in their lives on Valentine’s Day three years ago.
Betty and John’s remarkable story reminds us all to never give up on love, no matter the circumstances. Their story is a lesson that it is never too late to reconnect with a long lost love and to never give up on a flame that has been lit for such a long time. Life leads us through a mysterious maze, but somehow life always seems to find what our hearts truly desire, even if it seems like a lifetime away.

I hope you all have a lovely day and take care,

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Honoring a Legacy: Tuskegee Airmen

Hello All,
War Bonds Propaganda
This week’s post is in honor of our African American veterans who served during World War II. As we all know, African Americans were not given the opportunity to serve in combat units until World War II. Blacks were almost always given the undesirable duties which were usually not what a soldier dreams of when volunteering to protect their country. These duties included grave registration, supply units, and construction, among other assignments. Slowly but surely, these men were overcoming generations of discrimination to prove they were as patriotic as any white man.

Considered the hallmark of African American advancement, The Tuskegee Airmen, along with many other all black units, changed the way Americans viewed African American contributions in the war effort. For decades, the popular belief was that African Americans were not motivated enough for combat duty. They would not fight aggressively enough, they would not be patriotic enough, and they would not be able to maintain the required skills of a white soldier. Clearly, the over 100,000 African Americans serving in World War II, and in past conflicts, have proved that theory wrong time and time again. Despite the fact that the Airmen were so influential, not only to the war effort, but also to the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, many people have only just begun to acknowledge their legacy.
The first group of Airman to graduate from Tuskegee, March 1942
Before World War II, the United States Army was so sure African Americans could not perform in combat, that the Army War College conducted a study in 1925 that ‘proved’ African-Americans were both physically and psychologically unfit for combat duty. When military advances were being made, especially in the years leading up to the Second World War, the government refused to open special training schools for blacks in the military, but through the determination of the NAACP, black press, a lawsuit, and influence from the President and First Lady Roosevelt, the Army conceded to the “Tuskegee Experiment”, which would train African Americans in combat aviation. Located at the Tuskegee University, Alabama, the Army Air Corps began training on July 19, 1941. Ironically, aviation is considered one of the most psychologically and academically challenging professions in the military.
Capt. Benjamin Davis, Sicily
Twelve cadets and one officer, Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. (the future first African American general in the Air Force) made up the first squadron to pass through the program that would eventually become the 99th Pursuit Squadron, or more popularly known, “Tuskegee Airmen”. Immediately, they began combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater, and eventually joined with newer squadrons to form the 332nd Fighter Group.
Not only were the Airmen successful, despite bets they would fail, they became envied by most other pilots because of their success. The Tuskegee Airmen proved to be some of the most talented pilots in the war effort and began the movement to fully integrate the U.S. Military by 1948. Their determination propelled the Civil Rights Movement into a force to be reckoned with in the eyes of the government. The population could no longer ignore the rights and talents of the black community. Not only that, but many of these men were able to continue their educations after the war, in areas of study such as law, political science, medicine, and education, continuing on a cherished legacy.
Tuskegee Airmen in front of a P-40 Fighter Plane, May 1942
It is a true testament to the will of these brave men that 926 Tuskegee Airmen were able to define the way the U.S. Military viewed African-American service in a time when it was socially acceptable to discriminate. 

Take Care,

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Keeping up with the Memorial

Hello All!

The first installment of our Lecture Series was a huge success, thanks to all who could attend!! We had 59 people come support the Memorial and hear some interesting details involving the effects of weather on the D-Day invasion.  A big thank you to John Ross, the author, as well for making the trip to see us and do a fantastic lecture!

Also, the Foundation has only FIVE more GI Jive tickets left so if you are thinking about attending than be sure to purchase your tickets THIS WEEK! Again, tickets are $75 per individual and $150 per couple. Call us at (540) 586-3329 to purchase your tickets today! You won’t want to miss out on all the fun we have planned for your special Valentine’s Day treat.


National D-Day Memorial
Today, I would like to share a beautifully written article about the Memorial published this past weekend. Alex Rohr from The News & Advance wrote an inspiring article about how far the National D-Day Memorial Foundation has come in the past several years. The journey may certainly have been rocky and unknown, but the staff, volunteers, board members, and supporters have kept the Memorial alive. Without their hard work, determination, and giving hearts, the outcome of our story would be very different today. It is a privilege to work in an environment that recognizes and honors the sacrifices made by our veterans, then and now. It is so important to keep the memory alive and continue educating our youth about our extraordinary past. We have come a long way but there is still so much more we wish to accomplish in the years to come.

D-Day Memorial Foundation in the black after years of financial struggle
Posted: Saturday, January 31, 2015 6:39 pm
Alex Rohr

The bottom line:
Evening at the Memorial
The National D-Day Memorial Foundation reported a net deficit in returns from 2009 through 2012. The 2013 return, for the reporting period that ended June 30, 2014, showed a turnaround.
·         2009: -$675,881
·         2010: -$645, 686
·         2011: -$640,349
·         2012: -$477,637
·         2013: $193,698
Source: National D-Day Memorial Foundation federal tax returns

National D-Day Memorial Foundation Board Chair Barry N. Moore
I think the big turnaround at D-Day is because we fine-tuned our focus for the future. We elevated some employees to better positions within the organization. And we coalesced around a major new effort to expand the D-Day Memorial to what it should be in the nation.

BEDFORD — An increase of more than $675,000 in donations over the last fiscal year boosted the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to its first net gain since 2008.
Founded in 1989 to memorialize the Allied assault of Normandy in World War II, the foundation ended its fiscal year this past summer with a net gain of $193,698, according to the nonprofit’s latest federal income tax return.
The foundation had ended the 2012 fiscal year with a deficit of $477,637.
The nonprofit has worked to chip away at its operating deficit over the past several years. Almost doubling the “gifts, grants, and similar amounts” line year-over-year in fiscal 2013 pulled the foundation into the black.
Part of the difference is a strategic plan to broaden marketing for the site, which opened in 2001. The foundation’s board chair, Barry N. Moore, said making April Cheek-Messier sole president more than a year ago and the streamlining that followed played a significant role.
“I think the big turnaround at D-Day is because we fine-tuned our focus for the future. We elevated some employees to better positions within the organization. And we coalesced around a major new effort to expand the D-Day Memorial to what it should be in the nation,” Moore said.
The revenue picture is a significant turnaround from 2009, when struggling finances prompted the then-president of the foundation, William McIntosh, to say that the site was at risk of closure because revenue was not keeping pace with operating costs.

At that time the memorial began to seek inclusion in the national park system as a means of long-term viability, but after a lengthy study the National Park Service declined last year to take over the site. By then, though, the foundation already had narrowed its deficit significantly.
In April, Moore told The News & Advance the foundation brought in more money than it spent that year. The foundation still had a net negative at that time, when calculating depreciated value, or money to be reinvested in infrastructure. Now, the organization officially is netting positive.
The foundation brought in $1.2 million in contributions from July 2013 through June 2014, compared to $686,506 the previous fiscal year, a 46 percent increase.
While the site is located in Bedford in honor of the community’s loss of men of D-Day, its mission is mark the valor and sacrifice of all who participated in the invasion.
“When I became chairman, I really wanted to emphasize that this is the nation’s memorial, not a local memorial,” Moore said. “And to do that we needed to broaden our message and broaden our marketing to all of North America, not just Southside Virginia or Central Virginia, and we are aggressively doing that now.”
The foundation aims to construct an on-site museum and education center, hopefully by the invasion’s 75th anniversary on June 6, 2019. The center, which could include a research library, would make the memorial even more of a nationwide draw. It was named the top travel attraction in Virginia and ranked 17 nationwide by the website TripAdvisor this year.
Cheek-Messier said getting in the black shows a stronger foundation, which will enhance its image to donors and make it eligible for more grants. She credits new statues and diverse educational programming in encouraging donor and community involvement.
“I think that more than anything, people were seeing things happening that we haven’t been able to do in a while,” she said.
D-Day Memorial Wall
In May, the foundation installed a bust of Bob Slaughter, an Omaha Beach infantryman from Roanoke and strong supporter of the monument. The statue “Homage,” representing the D-Day soldiers and the families they left behind, was unveiled at the 70th anniversary commemoration on June 6, 2014.
“It’s about [D-Day veterans], it’s about honoring them while they’re still with us, but certainly we have to look to the future, how we inspire the next generation,” Cheek-Messier said.
Visitation jumped 21 percent in the past fiscal year — to almost 60,000 — boosted in part by the weekend-long 70th-anniversary observance, which drew more than 10,000 visitors.
The commemoration, likely one of the last large gatherings of D-Day veterans, raised the monument’s recognition nationwide. Cheek-Messier said she did two to three interviews a week with national and international media in the months leading up to it.
She said the foundation had just looked to cover expenses for the 70th anniversary, but “people did make a generous offering during the June 6 ceremony.”
The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra concert the next day was one of the significant “small campaigns” contributing to increased donations. The December luminary fundraiser brought in about $10,000. Short-term campaigns accounted for 46 percent of gifts. Individuals contributed 25 percent, according to the annual report.
Cheek-Messier said the 70th-anniversary weekend helped develop relationships that should be long-lasting.
“We have new names in our databases that we never had before as a result of the 70th anniversary,” she said.
70th D-Day Anniversary Commemoration, 6 June 2014
She said the event expanded the base of those who donate not only money but artifacts — and, most importantly, stories. The memorial has a list of the 4,413 killed on D-Day. A foundation goal is to have a story to go with each name.
“When you personalize the story, it becomes much more relevant,” Cheek-Messier said. “It makes it very personal and suddenly you know that person.”
Over the next year, the foundation is working with contractors, architects and other consultants to examine the site’s entire 55 acres. All but nine acres currently are undeveloped.
“Our board of directors believes a strong education aspect of the memorial is what it needs to have long-term success and growth,” Moore said.
According to a D-Day report, 78 percent of the foundation’s operational expenses in the 2013 fiscal year were for education and memorial support. The rest was split between administration and fundraising.
The foundation has moved from East Main Street, where World War II and D-Day artifacts and books were hidden behind desks, to a full building on West Main Street, where the books line shelves and artifacts have an entire room.
The long-term plan is centered on a museum, education and research center to house the artifacts. D-Day currently uses the Bedford Area Welcome Center to provide programming in winter months, such as the talk and book signing Thursday with John Ross, who wrote “The Forecast for D-Day: And the Weatherman Behind Ike’s Greatest Gamble.”

Volunteers and community support have been a significant part of the memorial’s financial improvement. A regular army of volunteers assist the 16 employees, along with others who helped prepare for the over 10,000 people who visited over the June 6 weekend. The memorial’s 85 most active volunteers donated 9,327 hours in the last fiscal year.
“Whether it’s helping to weed or mulch or plant flowers or maintain something at the site … or distributing information … or speaking to groups … it’s all part of that team effort,” Cheek-Messier said. “We have a very small staff; we can’t do it ourselves.”

I hope you all enjoyed this shining article and it inspires you to do great things. 

Take Care,

Rohr, Alex. “D-Day Memorial Foundation in the Black after Years of Financial Struggle.” The News & Advance, January 31, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2015.