- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

BEDFORD, Va. | On the eve of the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the foundation that runs the National D-Day Memorial is on the brink of financial ruin.

Donations are down in the poor economy. The primary base of support - World War II veterans - is dying off. And the privately funded memorial is struggling to draw visitors because it is hundreds of miles from a major city.

Facing the prospect of cutting staff and hours, the memorial’s president thinks its only hope for long-term survival is to be taken over by the National Park Service or by a college or university.

So far, he’s found no takers.

“All institutions are in various states of privation of one kind or another,” foundation President William McIntosh said. “Everybody’s endowment has been slapped around pretty badly by the economy.”

The memorial opened eight years ago at a ceremony attended by President George W. Bush. It was built in Bedford because the community 115 miles west of Richmond suffered among the nation’s highest per capita losses on D-Day.

Several thousand visitors are expected at the memorial Saturday to mark the anniversary.

The outdoor museum tells the story of the Normandy invasion in sculptures of soldiers and their leaders. Air jets shoot mini-geysers of water to mimic enemy gunfire as bronze figures of soldiers struggle for shore in a reflecting pool. Some 10,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded in the costly landing.

The memorial’s attention to detail evokes an emotional response for those who lived through D-Day, said James A. Huston, a World War II veteran and historian who will receive the French Legion of Honor on Friday in Paris.

“The whole idea is well done,” said Mr. Huston, retired dean of nearby Lynchburg College. “It tells the story.”

The privately owned foundation faced financial disaster soon after its 2001 opening, prompting a criminal investigation and Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Federal fraud charges eventually were dropped against the memorial’s former director, Richard B. Burrow, who led aggressive efforts to build the monument in time for many aging World War II veterans to see it. Soaring construction costs put the foundation some $7 million in debt, but Mr. McIntosh said donations erased the deficit by 2006.

Still, as Mr. McIntosh looks ahead, he sees a bleak future.

“It makes me sad for America that we can’t do a bit better than this,” he said.

Expenses run about $2.2 million annually, only $600,000 of which comes from visitors.

Slightly more than half the visitors come from outside Virginia, Mr. McIntosh said, but the memorial cannot count on increases at the gate. It is 200 miles from the tourist crowds of the District.

Salaries and benefits for 20-plus employees amount to nearly $1 million a year, according to Internal Revenue Service documents. Mr. McIntosh said the memorial relies on a crew of 220 volunteers for much of the work of putting on programs and maintaining about 20 landscaped acres.

Mr. McIntosh said layoffs and reduced hours will be necessary in a few weeks, but even those measures will not be enough to keep the gates open for long.

The foundation has just $300,000 available to pay operating expenses, he said, and an endowment of $400,000.

Rep. Tom Perriello, Virginia Democrat, whose district includes the memorial, plans to introduce legislation this week to transfer the site to the Park Service.

A Park Service spokesman said new parks are created primarily by Congress, which proposes them and then authorizes the Park Service to study whether they meet the criteria for a national park.

“It’s not a common everyday occurrence,” said Phil Sheridan, of the Park Service’s regional office in Philadelphia.

Mr. McIntosh thinks the Bedford memorial would be an ideal companion museum to the World War II Memorial in the District, which is overseen by the Park Service.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide