The (United States) National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA was dedicated on 6 June 2001, the 57th anniversary of D-Day, in a ceremony featuring speeches by President George W. Bush and French Ambassador to the United States Fran├žois Bujon de l'Estang. It overlooks the U.S. 460/Virginia 122 interchange, approximately 25 miles east of Roanoke via U.S. 220A south to 460 east from Interstate 81 Exit 150. It is open 10 AM-5 PM seven days a week, and closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Site admission is free, but parking is $10/vehicle. I would recommend going just about anytime but the winter -- your outdoor memorial experience will be much less pleasant if you have to tolerate whipping winds and 30-degree temperatures. If you're considering a fall vacation, Bedford is only a short side trip off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the fall colors will take your breath away.

The structure consists of a granite/marble arch with the inscription "Overlord" (the operation's code name) overlooking a life-size sculpture of the American landing on Omaha Beach, with landing craft, soldiers struggling onto the beach and above them climbing the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. Behind the arch fly the flags of twelve Allied nations who participated in D-Day or the following days' desperate struggle to hold ground gained in the 6 June invasion.

Although the idea for a memorial had been bandied about for at least a decade, Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz took the national lead in fundraising for the memorial. He did this because of his belief that D-Day was the greatest defining moment in American history; to him, 6 June 1944 represented America's final realization of her place as the world's foremost defender of freedom and fighter of tyranny. (Schulz's comics of 6 June always honor D-Day, with various characters, often Snoopy, playing the part of an American serviceman heading toward the cliffs.) Unfortunately, Schulz did not live to see the opening of his dream; he passed away on 12 February 2000. After Schulz's passing, Steven Spielberg assumed a greater national role with the memorial, in following with his success with Saving Private Ryan.

The site of Bedford, VA was chosen for the memorial because this small town on the edge of Southwestern Virginia, between Lynchburg and Roanoke, suffered the highest per capita losses of any community in the country on D-Day. Company A of the 29th Infantry Division, 116th Regiment, Virginia National Guard was home for 35 Bedford men. Out of a town of 3,200, 26 went ashore and 19 were killed on D-Day itself, then 4 more were killed in the days immediately after 6 June. Local lore has it that U.S. 29, which cuts through the Virginia Piedmont east of Bedford, was given its number in honor of the 29th Division.


Sources: http://www.dtic.mil/armylink/news/Jun2001/a20010607dday0607.html, http://www.roanoke.com/dday/, and personal experience