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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Volunteering is Fun at the National D-Day Memorial

Hello, everyone!

Today, we want to feature the men and women who put in thousands of volunteer hours each year to support the educational mission of the National D-Day Memorial to honor the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. We really couldn’t do what we do here without them!

Volunteers listening to the tour guide at the
George C. Marshall Museum in Lexington, VA
On Monday, we had the opportunity to take our volunteers who worked 25 hours or more to Lexington, VA to visit the George C. Marshall Museum and Lee Chapel. I always look forward to the Volunteer Field Trip because it is a great time to catch up with our volunteers during the slower winter season—especially, since the Memorial tends to be closed due to ice and snow in January and February—and for all of us to learn from other museums and historic sites.

If you are interested in volunteering with the National D-Day Memorial, you are in luck—We will be holding our annual Volunteer Training this weekend at the Bedford Welcome Center! We have two different dates to fit your schedule: Friday, February 26, 2016 or Saturday, February 27, 2016 from 8:30AM to noon. This is an opportunity to learn more about the National D-Day Memorial and different ways that you can volunteer here. Call (540) 587-3619 for more information and to RSVP.

Below, Ches shares about what it is like to volunteer at the National D-Day Memorial:


Ches volunteering at the Information Table
 at the POW/MIA ceremony Sept. 2015 with
Jenny, D-Day's Volunteer Coordinator,
and Trudy, a volunteer for the Gift Store
During my final semester at Longwood, I completed an internship with the Memorial. During my internship I did everything I could trying to experience as much as possible! I worked in the Foundation's archives organizing, accessioning, and preserving history for the future. I also helped out in the Education Department. I led tours, supervised the Victory Garden students, assisted in leading student events, such as the day camps, and so much more! Once my internship was over in May 2015, I decided to stick around and volunteer throughout the summer because I truly enjoyed sharing and preserving the legacy of D-Day. My experience at the Memorial gave my internship and my volunteering so much meaning. History- learning it and teaching it- and interacting with visitors became a passion of mine, and today I can't imagine doing anything else!

In 2015, we had just over 80 volunteers at the National D-Day Memorial who volunteered 10,500 hours last year! Our volunteers bring the Memorial alive from giving visitors wonderful tours for the public and school groups to answering questions to welcoming visitors at the gate and in the gift store. Not only do our volunteers assist in daily operations, but also with events and ceremonies on-site. It is through this contagious spirit of patriotic volunteerism that we are able to ensure that the Memorial will carry on the legacy of D-Day for future generations.
Twila and Bill volunteering to set-up luminaries in Dec. 2015.
They also volunteer as tour guides for the public and school groups.
I am truly honored to work with wonderful, caring, intelligent volunteers who not only make everyone's day brighter, but who give their all for this incredible Memorial. You taught thousands of children, adults, and students the story of the Bedford Boys and the Allied valor, fidelity, and sacrifice on D-Day. You all are what make this Memorial so memorable. The story is impressive, but it is the volunteers who tell it that bring it alive and make it real for the thousands of visitors each year.

Thanks again for all you do!


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Commemorating Black History Month at the National D-Day Memorial

Hello, Friends!

320th Barrage Balloon Battalion
For the past few winters, the National D-Day Memorial hosts a Lunchbox Lecture series by staff and guest speakers that cover a range of topics on World War II. It is one of the highlights of our slow winter season. While I have enjoyed each of the lectures I’ve attended while at the Memorial, I think that this February’s lecture is going to be one of the best we’ve had. I’ve loved learning about the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion and sharing their story with school groups while giving tours of the Memorial.

As a special evening lunchbox lecture and in commemoration of Black History Month, the National D-Day Memorial will host a special “Meet the Author” event with Linda Hervieux. Hervieux is the author of the recently released book Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes (Harper Collins). It tells the compelling story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, an intriguing unit of African-American soldiers sent in among the first wave of invaders on June 6, 1944. They were tasked with sending up a curtain of small blimps on cables, used to deter enemy aircraft and protect the historic landings on the Normandy coast. Heroically doing their job in the chaos of battle, they played a role that few have ever realized—until now.
Linda Hervieux

While Forgotten is her debut book, Linda Hervieux is hardly a novice writer. She’s a respected journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the New York Daily News, and Fodor's Paris. A native of Lowell, Massachusetts, she lived for many years in Brooklyn before moving with her husband to Paris, where they now reside.

Corporal William Dabney,
320th Barrage Balloon Battalion
We are also honored to be able to host D-Day veteran William Dabney of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion at the lecture. On June 6, 1944, he was assigned to Omaha Beach as a Balloon Crew Chief. As he approached the beach, his leg was hit by shrapnel, but he taped it up and kept going. Once he realized that the barrage balloon was no longer attached, he was placed in a position where he needed to defend himself on the beaches of Normandy. In 2009, Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor medal by the French government for his service on D-Day.

This lecture will take place Monday, February 22nd, 2016 at the Bedford Welcome Center and begin at 6:30PM. Copies of Forgotten will be available to for purchase, and Hervieux will sign books after her presentation. The event is free and open to the public, but due to the anticipated response we ask that attendees RSVP by calling 540-586-DDAY. Light refreshments will be served.

Special thanks to AREVA and Virginia Foundation of the Humanities, and Roanoke Valley Sister Cities for their support of this event. 

Hope to see you there!


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Last of the Bedford Boys: Allen Huddleston

Hello Again, Friends!

Allen Huddleston during training with the
29th Division 116th Regiment Co. A
It’s with a heavy heart that we publish this un-anticipated blog post. Yesterday, the United States lost the last of the famous Bedford Boys—the ones who valiantly stormed onto the Dog Green Sector of Omaha Beach in the first wave on D-Day. Just over 40 men from Bedford participated in the D-Day invasion and unfortunately 19 of them were dead by the end of the day on June 6, 1944. This was devastating for the small town of Bedford, which is recognized as having the most men per capita killed on D-Day. Today, we honor Allen Huddleston’s valor, fidelity, and sacrifice on D-Day and want to share his story.

During World War II before the U.S. entered the war, Allen Huddleston worked as a soda jerk at Lyle’s drugstore in downtown Bedford and married his wife, Geraldine, who was a cousin of fellow Bedford Boy, Nick Gillaspie. Knowing that military service was inevitable, he decided to join the National Guard’s 29th Division 116th Regiment Company A since he wanted to go to war with people he knew instead of taking a chance with the draft.

Robert Key and Allen Huddleston
After training at Fort Meade for a year and a half, Company A left for England in September 1942 on the Queen Mary, which was under strict orders not to stop for anything. Because of this, she split one of her escort ships, Curacao, in half. Huddleston witnessed the event: "I was lying on my bunk when I felt a slight thud. I looked out a porthole, just in time to see half a ship sinking. We didn't even slow down." Those on the boat were shocked that the Queen Mary kept going instead of rescuing the hundreds of men who were drowning.

During their time in England, the Bedford Boys spent time camping out on the moors. Huddleston recounted how no one could stay dry and that one time they had to set up their pup tents in a driving rain and Captain Fellers kicked down those that were not perfectly aligned, even with people in them.While training for the invasion, Allen broke his ankle practicing unarmed combat strategies with Sergeant Robert Goode, also of Bedford. As a result, he missed the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

Allen Huddleston after WWII with his camera
He rejoined the Company A on August 28th in Brest, France. He did not recognize anyone, and even found out that fellow Bedford Boy, Joe Parker, had died the day before he arrived. Another Bedford Boy, Mess Sergeant Earl Newcomb, was still with Company A, but Huddleston never saw him. Just a month later during the Aachen offensive, Huddleston was re-injured—this time with a shoulder injury from the shrapnel of a shell. He was sent home shortly afterward and arrived back in Bedford in April 1945.

As one of the few Bedford Boys to return from Europe, Allen Huddleston said he had someone
looking out for him on the day of the D-Day invasion. After the war, he and Geraldine welcomed two sons and he opened a photography shop in Bedford. He is also credited with writing the inscription on the monument dedicated to the Bedford Boys in 1954 in front of the Courthouse in downtown Bedford.

It truly is the end of an era for Bedford, and the United States. But, it is also a chilling reminder that our time is limited to honor and thank all WWII veterans while they are still with us. More than ever it is important to preserve and share the legacy of Mr. Huddleston, the Bedford Boys, and all D-Day and WWII veterans for future generations. I want to encourage you to thank the WWII veterans in your family or in your neighborhoods for the service, and to take the time to listen to their stories. What motivates people to share the legacy of our WWII veterans is not facts and statistics about WWII, but stories that make the war personal to them.

Here at the National D-Day Memorial we do this through our educational programming and by maintaining for the nation a memorial to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied forces that took part in the landing at Normandy, France on 6 June 1944. Visit our website at to find out more about visiting the Memorial, our educational initiatives and programming, and how to support the Memorial in telling the D-Day story today and ensure its retelling tomorrow.

Until Next Time,

Maggie and Ches


Kershaw, Alex. The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2003.

“The Last of the Bedford Boys.” Combat 15.1 (Winter 2007). 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Wartime Sweethearts: Wally Williams and Betty Morrill

Hello Friends!

Everyone loves a good love story. Even more so when the couple faces challenging circumstances that their enduring love overcomes. I’m a sucker for a good WWII wartime love story. Seeing how young love endured distance and the other challenges that come along with war is—no matter the outcome—endearing. Spoiler alert—I am going to be sharing a story today that did not end with a happy homecoming in 1945, so make sure you have some Kleenex nearby if these stories tend to trigger your tear ducts like they do for me.

Wally's short-snorters from his first, and only,
transatlantic crossing.
As it’s been said before on this blog, artifacts are so much more than objects. They often have stories attached to them whether or not they are written. At first glance, these signed dollar bills just look like some sort of memento from the war. It turns out that they are short-snorters—they were used to document a service member’s first Atlantic crossing. They belonged to a Wally Williams and he gave them to his girlfriend, Betty Morrill.

Wally and Betty’s romance started in Chicago during the Great Depression when Wally delivered groceries for Betty’s mother. In 1940, he was washing the windows at Betty’s house when he noticed how beautiful she was in her maid of honor dress for her sister’s wedding. He decided to ask her to his senior prom where they stayed out all night and had breakfast together that next morning.

Wally and Betty after his graduation in 1941.
After he graduated in 1941, they began to date since he no longer busy being an all-state wrestler. Betty and Wally loved to jitterbug, in addition to going to the movies, taking long walks and swimming. At first, Wally was given a deferment from enlistment because he was the sole supporter of his family at the time working at a railroad loading boxcars. However, in December 1942, Wally was drafted into the war. He trained as a soldier at Camp Walters in Texas and was given orders to deploy to England.

Betty traveled with his family to New Jersey to send him off. They arrived on a Saturday and Wally was given a pass for that night and they all went to a local bar and made plans for the next day. However, Sunday morning he called and notified them that he was confined to base since they were shipping out that evening. The family was allowed on base for a few hours that day. It was there that she sent him off with kisses, tears, and promises of tomorrow without realizing that this was a final good-bye.

This photograph was taken of Wally in England
February 24, 1944 while training for D-Day.
Wally was sent to England to prepare for the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. While he was in England preparing for the invasion, they wrote each other letters regularly. It was during this time that he sent her the short-snorters signed by members of the 29th Division for safe keeping.

Wally’s outfit was one of the first units to land on the beaches on June 6, 1944. Many of those soldiers were killed on that day. However, Wally was one of the lucky few to continue on into France. On July 5, 1944, he wrote a letter that referred to her as “Snooks”—it was his nickname for her—and then went on to talk about how lonely he felt, but that she was his inspiration to keep going. He finished out the letter by saying that he loved her. Unfortunately, this would be the last letter that Wally would write to his beloved Betty. 

Wally was killed shortly after he wrote that letter. In August 1944, he was listed as missing in action but then shortly after the first telegram his brother notified Betty that he had been killed in action. She cried for a week. She later said this about her grief:

“So much is told of mothers and wives of GIs who were lost in WWII, but so little is mentioned of the sweethearts that were left behind. We too suffered, but without a gold star to hang in our window, just one to hang in our hearts, to remain there forever, symbolic of a life that might have been.”

Although Betty moved on with her life by marrying and becoming a mother, she never forgot about Wally. In 1995, People magazine, in honor of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, published photographs of the 29th Division veterans and Betty recognized some of the names as those who signed the short-snorters Wally sent her. She was able to preserve Wally’s memory by reconnecting with these veterans. She even found out from one of his buddies that Wally regretted not marrying her.

National D-Day Memorial Dedication on June 6, 2001
As a part of honoring Wally, Betty traveled to the National D-Day Memorial’s dedication on June 6, 2001. She joined almost 20,000 other guests and President George W. Bush in tribute to the soldiers of the D-Day invasion and the realization of D-Day veteran Bob Slaughter’s dream. It was through this connection that we now have these short-snorters at the Memorial today.

Wally and Betty’s love story is just one out of thousands of others. While we have shared quite a few on this blog, there are still lots of stories that are left untold. One of my personal favorite aspects of learning about World War II is learning about the lives of the people involved in the invasion. It is when we connect with history on a personal level that it becomes real to us and compels us to share with others. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I want to share more about an event that takes us back to the 1940’s.

Each year around Valentine’s Day, the National D-Day Memorial hosts a fundraiser called the “GI Jive.” It’s an opportunity to put on your dancing shoes to jump, jive, and jitterbug—just like Wally and Betty—at a 1940s dance like no other. It’s the perfect night of food, fun, and fancy footwork, and makes a great Valentine’s gift. We’ll have big band sounds from The Swingbeans featuring Karen Nichols and Scott Walter, a silent auction, a live auction, photo booth, and fabulous dinner catered by Charley’s—everything you need for a night of elegance and all benefiting the National D-Day Memorial.

This year we will be hosting the GI Jive at the historic Trivium Estate in Forest, VA on Saturday, February 13, 2016 from 6:00PM to 10:30PM. Attire is black tie or period clothing. Cost: $80/person or $150/couple. Tickets are limited! Call (540) 586-3329 to purchase your tickets or to sponsor a veteran today.

Until Next Time,



Brokaw, Tom. An Album of Memories: Personal Histories from the Greatest Generation. New York: Random House, 2001.

Whiteside, John. “Memories of her First True Love Bring Woman to the D-Day Memorial.” The Herald-News (Joliet, IL). N.d.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Role of African Americans on D-Day

Hello Friends!

Each February, the United States recognizes the accomplishments of African Americans through Black History Month.

During World War II, the practice of segregating our armed forces applied most directly to African Americans. For those of African descent, segregation in the military most often meant being pigeonholed into non-combat positions. Despite their relatively high rate of enlistment in the Armed Forces, African Americans were for the most part assigned labor-intensive duties, such as quartermaster and cook. Though the frontline was denied to most African American servicemen during World War II, there were still a handful of segregated units that distinguished themselves in battle during the Normandy campaign.

The Tuskegee Airmen

 The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II. They were the first African American military aviators. Formally, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They flew missions in Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, the Rhineland, the Po Valley and Rome-Arno and others. The red markings that distinguished the Tuskegee Airmen included red bands on the noses of P-51s as well as a red rudder, the P-51B and D Mustangs flew with similar color schemes, with red propeller spinners, yellow wing bands and all-red tail surfaces, hence the nickname “Red Tails.” The Tuskegee Airmen accomplished a lot during the war, including destroying over 400 enemy aircraft, 950 motor vehicles, 40 boats and barges, and put a destroyer out of commission.

761st Tank Battalion

Another segregated unit that distinguished itself in battle was the famous 761st Tank Battalion, also known as the “Black Panthers”. Though this unit did not land on D-Day, they did benefit from the sacrifice made on that day as they embarked onto Omaha Beach on October 10, 1944. As a part of Patton’s 3rd Army, the 761st fought bravely until the German surrender and was amongst the first units to link up with Soviet forces in Austria. The uniqueness and importance of this first African American tank battalion is perhaps best summed up in the words Patton used to greet them on Omaha: “I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don’t care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you. Don’t let them down and, damn you, don’t let me down!”

320th Barrage Balloon Battalion

On D-Day in particular there was only one segregated unit that landed on the beaches with the assault forces. That unit was the 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion, a unit of about 1,500 soldiers and 49 officers. Originally intended for defending the homeland, the 320th found itself reassigned to the Normandy invasion late in 1943. Their task was to defend the landing forces from low-altitude strafing aircraft by deploying gas-filled balloons attached to the ground by steel cables. These steel cables were meant to catch on the wings of passing aircraft, thus destroying them. Though originally designed to be manned by four-man teams, the soldiers of the 320th successfully performed their duties with only three-man teams. General Eisenhower praised the 320th’s service by saying that the battalion “carried out its mission with courage and determination, and proved an important element of the air defense team…your fine effort, has merited the praise of all who observed it.”

Not much has been written on the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, but there recently Linda Hervieux has published a book on the topic, Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes. We are fortunate to be able to host Mrs. Hervieux on
Monday, February 22nd at 6:30PM as a part of our annual Lunchbox Lecture series at the Bedford Welcome Center through the generosity of the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities. There will also be a book signing following her presentation.  This is no charge for admission to this lecture, but donations are appreciated to help support future educational programming. Call 800-351-DDAY for more information and to RSVP. Seating is limited.

It is incredibly important to honor and remember the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of all who contributed to the success of D-Day and World War II no matter their gender or skin color. The brave men of the Tuskegee Airmen, 761st Tank Battalion, and 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion played integral roles in the success of the Normandy campaign and we are honored to help preserve their legacy.

Until next time,