Memorial Day holds special significance in Bedford

Media General News Service

BEDFORD -- The 55th anniversary of D-Day will be celebrated six days early in this Central Virginia community, home of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.

On Monday, Memorial Day, the invasion's anniversary will be marked with a ceremony at the future site of the National D-Day Memorial.

The program includes the unveiling of a sculpture that will be a part of the completed museum complex. The day will also feature speakers who will share their D-Day experiences.

Though June 6 is the 55th anniversary of D-Day, the foundation decided to hold its ceremony on Memorial Day so as not to conflict with the international D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, France.

Those events will include some of the foundation's board members.

The Bedford events also offer an international point of view.

The day will feature speeches from Peter Thomas, a D-Day veteran who now works narrating television specials such as "Nova" for PBS, and Bernard Marie, who was a young boy living in France at the time of the invasion. Marie is now president of Software World, Inc., located in Northern Virginia.

William A. McIntosh, vice president for education for the foundation, said Thomas and Marie will present quite different perspectives of the D-Day experience. But, McIntosh said, their purpose will be to frame the magnitude of the invasion with their individual stones.

"The point is to get an idea of what it was like from both sides," McIntosh said, "Why D-Day was important to those guys then and why it is important today."

Beginning at 10 a.m., Monday's ceremony opens with a musical prelude from Brass Five of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra and will culminate with the unveiling of "Across the Beach," one of several bronze sculptures by Kansas artist Jim Brothers that will be a part of a "beach scene" at the memorial.

The National D-Day Memorial is being built in Bedford because the city and nearby communities lost more men per capita in the D-Day invasion on June 6,1944 - 21 men from Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division were killed - than any other community in the country.

McIntosh said the public is welcome to attend Monday's event, which will also draw a crowd of local D-Day veterans who will see the "Across the Beach" sculpture for the first time.

The sculpture depicts one soldier lurching forward with a rifle in his hand and his chin held high, while grabbing a wounded, fallen comrade by his pack to pull him along.

Those who attend Monday's ceremonies will also see the continuing progress of the memorial's construction.

Grading at the site is complete, and in late July the foundation will select a contractor to build the memorial's centerpiece, a 44-foot, six-inch high granite arch and the plaza that surrounds it, said Richard B. Burrow,- the foundation's executive director.

Burrow said the complex process of pouring the concrete that will support the massive arch and "Victory Plaza," which will also be made of granite, most likely will prevent that phase of construction from being completed before winter.

As of now, Burrow said, the foundation has its eye on a dedication of the arch and plaza in the spring of 2000.

After completion of the arch and plaza, construction will begin on the other components of the memorial: a small reflecting pool, and a larger reflecting pool and beach scene where most of the bronze sculptures will be located. The components of the plaza represent the three stages of D-Day: preparation, invasion and victory. The memorial is designed so that visitors will stop at the different stages in that order.

Although reports a few months ago indicated that construction of the memorial had slowed due to cash flow problems, Burrow and McIntosh said the foundation is in good shape financially.

Since the foundation began planning the memorial about 10 years ago, different dates, including June 6, 1999 and June 6, 2000, have been mentioned as targets for completion.

Burrow arid McIntosh said any named completion date is exactly that - a "target" - arid construction will progress as available funds allow, rather than be rushed to meet a deadline the foundation sees as unimportant when compared to the goal of doing a good job.

"We know everyone is anxious to see the memorial completed," Burrow said. "So are we. But we're not going to rush it now and face problems later on."

Fundraising is ongoing, and the foundation has decided to build the memorial as cash comes in, rather than borrow money and incur debt in order to build without having to wait for more donations, Burrow and McIntosh said.

They said this method may prolong completion of the project, but they said the foundation is willing to accept delays in order to do the job responsibly.

The memorial and the neighboring D-Day education center is expected to cost $12 million. Thus far the foundation has garnered about $7.75 million in cash and pledges.

About $5 million of the construction is paid for: That figure includes the cost of constructing the arch and "victory Plaza" and paying for a few of the bronze sculptures.

The education center, which will be at the site but in a separate building from the memorial, is expected to cost about $4 million, and the rest of the $12 million price tag is for completing the memorial itself.

Patrick Lynch is a staff writer at the News & Advance in Lynchburg.

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This page was last updated May 28, 1999.