Wished all the veterans in my big blended family were with me when I visited the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia on a bright autumn-leaves afternoon.
Sent a text to John, my stepson veteran, retired Lt. Col. and West Point graduate, telling him how rich his reactions would have made my discoveries in this place.
Ashamed to say I only went to the D-Day Memorial because I was in the neighborhood; my goal in this beautiful territory in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Roanoke Valley, was exploring Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s retreat home an hour from Monticello.
This is not a statue with a big plaque. This is 88 carefully designed acres of gardens, plazas, sculpture, symmetry and symbolism. Non-stop stories everywhere, real records of bravery, wisdom, valor and kindness.
Take a guided tour to get those stories; some days might be lucky enough to have a D-Day veteran himself walk you about.
My son Andrew was 10 years old when we went to Normandy Beach, touched by the rows of white crosses and the landing craft exhibitions. I’d recommend the Bedford experience to him now, 21 years later.
The Memorial’s in Bedford for a reason; 19 young men from this small community died that June 6, 1944 day, among the first off the landing craft.
I gained my best understanding ever of the planning and preparation of D-Day because the Memorial provides big visual experiences starting in a Classical Revival style garden.
Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower is a larger-than-life statue, standing under a mosaic of a map of the operations. Beautiful and instructive.
Lush gardens offer places to reflect, and share.
Portrait busts of Eisenhower’s team line the walkway to the garden whose flowers represent the Allied Expeditionary Force’s shoulder patch.
Teak benches surrounded with flowers provide spots to share emotions, to talk about reactions.
The big plaza representing the five landing beaches of the operation called Overlord is framed with bronze tablets of the names of 4,500 Allied forces who died.
Bronze plaques bear the names of all the Allied Forced who died in D-Day.
You can look through a landing craft into the waters where fountains are staccato pops representing bullets.
Look for a wedding ring on the finger of the soldier sculpture carrying his wounded buddy. This is one of the many ways the Bedford Memorial shows continuing honor. Quite a tale.
A D-Day soldier whose buddy died in his arms did the best he could with a final request. Take my wedding ring to my wife.
She was not to be found but decades later the widow of that soldier heard about the Memorial coming together in Bedford and contacted the sculptor, Jim Brothers from Missouri. He incorporated that exact ring.
Families of all ages can share conversations of lasting importance here. Plus the grounds, the vistas and the Bedford community are charming.
And who might be some other veterans in my blended family? My first husband, Doug, a Viet Nam vet. Step-daughter-in-law Jeannie, West Point grad and battalion commander. Brothers-in-law Bob, a Marine, and Bill in the Air Force.
Also Jack, the current husband of a former daughter-in-law divorced from my oldest stepson; this veteran was a medic with the Marines in Viet Nam.
Gets complicated some days at dinner.