On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces landed more than 150,000 troops onto heavily fortified beachheads in Normandy, setting in motion the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany. The effort was truly international: though most of the troops were from Britain, Canada and the United States, they included participants from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.
Designated Operation Overlord, the invasion was the largest air, land and sea operation ever undertaken. Beginning in the predawn hours of June 6, the Allies came ashore at five landing points, codenamed Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach. In the week that followed, the Allies secured the beaches and more than 300,000 additional troops, 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 tons of equipment landed at Normandy and began to move inland across Nazi occupied France.
Though the campaign was ultimately successful, the attack was not accomplished without a grievous loss of life. The United States D-Day Memorial Foundation estimates that the Allies suffered more than 10,000 casualties in the operation, with more than 4,000 dead.
The Homefront and the Costs of War
The town of Bedford is the home of the National D-Day Memorial.
At the time of the war, Bedford’s population was 3,200 people, and 32 of its sons took part in the D-Day invasion. By day’s end on June 6, 1944, 19 of them, known as the “Bedford Boys,” were dead. Four more would perish during the Normandy campaign, resulting in the largest per capita loss of any community in the United States.
Congress recognized in Bedford a symbol of all communities that had sacrificed its citizens to the cause of freedom in the D-Day operation, and decreed that it would be the home of the memorial to those communities’ troops.
A Special Remembrance
In June, Bedford will open its arms to host a historic commemoration. June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and during the week of June 5 through 9, the memorial will serve as the centerpiece of The Final Salute, a special program designed to observe the anniversary and honor its veterans.
“The 75th anniversary of D-Day is a really important milestone in not only the nation’s history but global history,” explained Angela Lynch, associate director of marketing for the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. “When you think of the sheer impact of that invasion of June 6, 1944, that one day in global history, it’s a day that was the turning point. The day that essentially saved the world, in many respects, that helped lead to the Allied victory in Europe.”
Planned as the memorial’s largest event since its dedication, The Final Salute is envisioned as potentially the last large gathering of D-Day veterans from around the world. “It’s really important to be able to honor the veterans that we still have with us in an appropriate fashion, in a way that really lets them know that, though we’re so many decades past, that we’re still appreciative, we’re still thankful and that we still understand — perhaps more so now than ever before — the enormity of that sacrifice,” Lynch said.
The memorial, dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2001, hosts an average of 60,000 visitors each year. Its grounds are situated on 88 acres near the heart of Bedford, crowning a hill that offers views of fields and mountains in every direction. At its center is a 44-foot arch that overlooks a reflecting pool reminiscent of the perilous journey faced by those who fought in Normandy on that day. Gardens, architecture and artwork offer a reverent, solemn tribute to the Allied troops who came together to turn back Nazi tyranny.
75th Anniversary Events
The memorial’s administrative team has planned a host of activities surrounding the June 6 anniversary date. On June 5, visitors can witness the dedication of a narrative plaque honoring the U.S. Naval Academy.
On June 6, an aerial tribute kicks off a commemorative service and a Normandy veteran roll call. Visitors can stop by for a tour of the memorial on June 7, as well as enjoy a 1940s-style outdoor concert and canteen, reminiscent of USO-hosted social events.
June 8 will feature a vintage victory parade through Bedford’s streets to honor veterans and celebrate the freedom they have ensured, and June 8 and 9 will offer two showings of “Tuesday Mourning,” an original stage play that tells the story of the Bedford Boys from the standpoint of the men who served in Normandy on that day. Finally, on June 9, the memorial will host a WWII-style field chapel service.
The memorial’s website contains details such as the schedule of events and hotel information, as well as a chance to register for The Final Salute.
“We do want folks, especially if they’re traveling with a veteran, to register so we know ahead of time,” Lynch said. “If they’re a Normandy veteran, we really want to get them on our list for our roll call, we want to get an accurate count of how many veterans are with us that day.”
This year is a particularly fitting time for a visit to the memorial.
“We’re treating 2019 as the commemoration year,” Lynch said. “So if there are folks out there who have never been to the National D-Day Memorial or they haven’t been in a while, we have some new things going on that we’re really excited about this year. This is the year to come learn and then move forward, because we’ve got some big plans down the road.”
More information, including a schedule of events for The Final Salute, is available at www.dday.org.