D-Day sacrifices remembered on 68th anniversary

D-Day veterans from the 29th Infantry Division salute their fallen comrades during the playing of "Taps" June 6, 2012, at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. (Photo by Mr. Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

BEDFORD, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, 116th Brigade Combat Team escorted D-Day veterans and laid a memorial wreath at the commemoration event held June 6, 2012 at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford to mark the 68th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Soldiers from the Clifton Forge-based 29th Army Band also laid a wreath.

Staff Sgt. Justin Walkup and Sgt. Brian Bennett lay a memorial wreath June 6, 2012, at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Both Soldiers serve in 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Brigade Combat Team. (Photo by Mr. Cotton Puryear, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

“It is an honor to be here,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Walkup, an infantry Soldier from the Headquarters Company of 1st Battalion. “I don’t want to take anything away from our generation and what we have done, but after hearing the stories about these men who are here, it is hard to compare what we went through with what they went through. It is remarkable what these men did.”

Like 11 other Virginia communities, Bedford provided Soldiers to serve in Company A in the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on Feb. 3, 1941. During the assault on Omaha Beach, 19 of the “Bedford Boys” of Company A died. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation’s most severe D-Day losses.
Recognizing that Bedford represented both large and small communities whose citizen-Soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, and this year’s event marked the 11th anniversary of the historic site’s dedication.
“We learn about D-Day in school, and it has become a familiar story,” said Sgt. Brian Bennet, an indirect fire infantryman from Company A. “But being here today and realizing these gentlemen, these heroes, were there and they were the ones who actually did it is incredible. These guys did it because it had to be done.”

Dedicated by the President of the United States on June 6, 2001, the National D-Day Memorial exists in tribute to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The National D- Day Memorial Foundation operates and maintains the Memorial, and its educational mission is to preserve the lessons and legacy of D-Day.

According to Lt. Col. Allan Carter, commander of 1st Battalion, Soldiers serving today have tangible reminders of their unit’s D-Day heritage with the battle streamers on the unit colors and the Presidential Unit Citation they wear on their dress uniforms that was earned at D-Day.

“It is important for us to remember these veterans on the 68th anniversary of D-Day and pay courtesy and respect for the sacrifices these men made,” Carter said. “Being here today is our way of repaying them for their tremendous service.”

Operation Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. Many of the first young men, most not yet 20 years old, entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching  the first natural feature offering any protection.The Memorial has four major components that represent the sweep of D-Day from the early planning and preparation for it, through the Channel crossing and landing in France, on to the Allied victory and consolidation on the beaches, and beyond Normandy into the landscape of postwar Europe. Within those components, visitors encounter a moving array of small memorials and tributes. Many of those are brought to life by the figurative sculpture emplaced throughout the Memorial.

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More information at the National D-Day Memorial web site at http://www.dday.org.