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'The Longest Day' — Memorial honors thousands killed on D-Day
Above is one of many bronze American soldier sculptures located at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. (Photo Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley)

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(Published Sunday, June 17, 2001)

BEDFORD, Va. — With the opening of the National D-Day Memorial here, the world now has an official site to pay tribute to the thousands killed and wounded during the 1944 invasion of Nazi-held Europe in Normandy, France.

Joining President Bush on June 6, 2001, a crowd of about 20,000 veterans and their families, loved ones of war dead, European residents, history connoisseurs and media attended the dedication of the memorial on the 57th anniversary of D-Day.

And if the dedication ceremony was any indication, the memorial will prove to be more than just a place to remember the sacrifices of D-Day. With an estimated 1,000 World War II soldiers dying daily, the majority of participants consisted of baby boomers and their sons and daughters sharing war stories about their fathers and grandfathers.

Sculptures depict GIs wading ashore Omaha Beach in the memorial's "Reflecting Pool."
(Photo Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley)
Gripping a framedphotograph of his father, Tech. Sgt. George Burton Chumbley, 4th "Ivy" Infantry Division, and joined by his mother and brother, Richard Chumbley, of Draper, said his father was wounded in July 1944 by shrapnel wounds to the shoulder.

"It was a traumatic time in 1944," he said. "People today have no idea what the soldiers went through. Dad went ashore Utah Beach on D-Day, but luckily made it back home at the end of the war. He died in 1992. I owed it to Dad to be here today. He couldn't make it, so I did."

Chumbley's brother, David, was born on Aug. 9, 1944. He was 9 months old before his father saw him.

"It's amazing any of them got back home," he said.

On D-Day, the Normandy beaches were code-named Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha and Utah. More than 2,000 American soldiers perished on June 6, 1944, at Omaha and Utah beaches. The invasion consisted of soldiers and sailors from 12 Allied nations forming the larhest air, land and sea armada in history.

Spanning more than eight acres, the National D-Day Memorial's centerpiece is a 44-foot-, 6-inch-high granite arch, symbolizing the date of the invasion. The arch bears the military code name of the operation, OVERLORD, and black and white invasion stripes applied to airplanes to help the Allies distinguish between friend and foe.

The second level of the memorial offers a replica of a German bunker facing bronze sculptures of American soldiers storming Omaha Beach, where the majority of American casualties were inflicted.

The bronze American soldier sculptures and a model of a personnel landing craft — also known as a Higgins boat — are surrounded by a granite reflecting pool of blue water and concrete yellow sand. Underwater jets shoot intermittent small sprays of water to resemble German gunfire upon the invasion beach.
A Higgins Boat and underwater jets depict the Normandy, France, landing along with sculptures of GIs wading ashore in the memorial's
"Reflecting Pool." (Photo Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley)

A plaza circling the pool is flanked by tall concrete walls that soon will display the names of approximately 6,000 soldiers killed on D-Day.

The National D-Day Memorial Foundation also plans to eventually offer an amphitheater, named in honor of director Steven Spielberg's father, Arnold — a World War II veteran who flew Army Air Corps missions — and a 49,000-square-foot education center. Spielberg, who gave contributions for the memorial's construction, won a best director Academy Award for his film Saving Private Ryan, which depicted the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach.

Philippe Gouf, who traveled from France with about 30 Normandy residents to attend the June 6 memorial dedication ceremony, still clearly remembers the long-awaited liberation of Europe.

"I was a student in Caen (located about 30 miles from Omaha Beach), and my mother, father and brother were in our home approximately 700 meters from the sea at Omaha Beach when the invasion began," he said.

"Our home was completely burned on June 7, D-Day-plus-one. I eventually returned to my home to find it empty. I rebuilt the home, and today I work in Paris and live in my childhood home at Omaha Beach."

The $14 million, nine-acre National D-Day Memorial was constructed atop the highest hill in Bedford — a small Southwest Virginia town that lost 21 of its 35 soldiers on D-Day. Nineteen Bedford soldiers died within the first 15 minutes of the invasion; two more died later on "the longest day." Historians say the 21 deaths from a town with a population of 3,200 in 1944 make Bedford's the highest per-capita loss from any community in the United States on D-Day.

Recognizing Bedford as "just the right place" for the memorial, Bush, during his dedicatory address, said Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's order of the day remains as "gratitude" nearly six decades later.

"Fifty-three hundred ships and landing craft, 1,500 tanks, 12,000 airplanes. But in the end, it came down to this: Scared and brave kids by the thousands who kept fighting and kept climbing and carried out General Eisenhower's order of the day — nothing short of complete victory," the president said.

"Today we give thanks for all that was gained on the beaches of Normandy. We remember what was lost with respect, admiration and love."

On the Net: www.dday.org

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Click here for more photos from the June 6, 2001, National D-Day Memorial Dedication Ceremony

Story and Photographs Copyright © 2001-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson City Press,
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
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596th Signal Support Co., 97th Signal Battalion
47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
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