National D-Day Memorial (Virginia)

https://www.dday.org

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The little town of Bedford, VA lost the most soldiers proportionally of any town in America during the storming of the beaches at Normandy during World War II.  That is why you will find the National D-Day Memorial in this small town that isn’t even near an interstate.  Thousands of people flock here every year to pay their respects to all of the soldiers who didn’t make it back home from the battle.  The memorial usually has a moving ceremony on June 6th, the anniversary of the attacks, but this year, the celebration will be virtual, which means that you and your children can watch from anywhere!

On June 6th, 1944, one of history’s most daring battles took place on the heavily guarded beaches of Normandy, France.  My family and I visited those beaches, including Omaha, and the American Cemetery in Normandy in 2018.  It was one of the most powerful and emotional historical sites that I have visited.  Be sure to read my review of these sites here.

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Once we told our guide, a young Frenchman who had lived in Bayeux his whole life, that we were from Virginia, a big smile lit up his face.  “Have you been to Bedford?” he asked.  He went on to say that in his upcoming road trip around the US, he planned to see the World War II memorials in major cities, like Washington, DC.  However, he was making a special effort to drive the 4 hours from DC to Bedford to see the National D-Day Memorial.  76 years after the battle, the French people still respect the sacrifice and service of the Bedford boys.

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Begin your visit at the Bedford Area Welcome Center, which is located at the foot of the memorial.  In this center (currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic), you can buy your tickets for the memorial and see several D-Day exhibits.  My kids were fascinated with the powerful short movie.  

After a quick visit here, you can drive up the hill to the memorial, which has plenty of parking.  The memorial drive is a loop and you can park at several different locations around the loop.  Be sure you have the site’s app downloaded to enhance your visit.

Park near the main entrance to the memorial and make your way to the triumphal arch, which looms majestically over the entire memorial.  The word on it, “OVERLORD,”  is the official name of the military operation that we now call D-Day.  Our tour guide in France worked for a company called Overlord Tours.

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Continue to the balcony, overlooking the memorial.  The memorial itself is magnificent and moving, depicting soldiers crawling up out of the surf and onto the beach, all while the ocean rages and German guns fire down upon them.  It is really an ingenious way to depict the horror that rained down on the soldiers that day.  Spend some time here, really taking in the statues and their various poses.  You can walk down and around the memorial to get a better view.

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Walk around the memorial to read plaques honoring the casualties and survivors from the battle.  On the east side of the memorial, don’t miss the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.  Also your kids may be interested in the tributes to the naval and air commands near the triumphal arch.

There is plenty of room for kids to skip or play as you walk around the memorial.  Just be sure to remind them that this is a place to honor the sacrifice of the soldiers so respect is needed.  If the circle is too large for your child’s little legs, you can drive around the circle and park near the items of interest.

2020 marks the 76th anniversary of the D-Day operation, and while the coronavirus pandemic has prevented the public from visiting in person, the memorial is hosting a virtual ceremony on June 6th at 11 am here.  

The memorial has several programs geared specifically for kids, including special days for children with sensory issues.  Also check out the day camps at home that the memorial is hosting this summer!  You can help your kids understand more about D-Day using the memorial’s education resources.  

Until the pandemic closures are lifted, you can view the memorial through these photos.  The memorial also hosted a poignant virtual Memorial Day program that you can view here.

The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford is a place that every American should visit to pay their respects to those who sacrificed so much for our freedom.  While off the beaten path, it is a must-see destination and will be one that your kids will remember forever.  

 

Helpful hints (be sure to verify current restrictions/closures due to the coronavirus pandemic):

  • Cost: $10/adult; $6/6-18 years old; free/under 6
  • Recommended: all ages
  • Tour time: 1 hour
  • Gift shop in Bedford Area Visitor Center
  • Transportation: Accessible by car only
  • Dining options nearby: Liberty Station looks like a fun place for kids.  Located in the town’s old railroad station, the Bedford boys would have headed out for service from this very station!
  • Hotels nearby: There are few choices in Bedford so I suggest looking at recommended hotels in the nearby towns of Lynchburg (Craddock Terry Hotel) or Roanoke (Hotel Roanoke).  To make this a fun vacation, you could also rent a house at nearby Smith Mountain Lake.
  • Nearby attractions include: Bedford Historic District, Poplar Forest (one of Thomas Jefferson’s homes), Booker T. Washington National Monument, and Amazement Square (Lynchburg)

 

Books to Read:

See my booklist for D-Day books on Bookshop.org, an Amazon alternative that supports independent bookstores.  This link is an affiliate link where I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

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