- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

BEDFORD, Va. — President Bush yesterday paid homage to the World War II generation as he helped dedicate the National D-Day Memorial in this Southern town that saw 21 of its men perish in the Allied invasion of Normandy that hastened the downfall of the Nazis.
"You have raised a fitting memorial to D-Day, and you have put it in just the right place. Not on a battlefield of war, but in a small Virginia town — a place like so many others that were home to the men and women who helped liberate a continent," Mr. Bush told a crowd of more than 10,000 residents and World War II and D-Day veterans who gathered in front of the memorial.
Event officials estimated about another 10,000 people gathered on the grassy sides of the memorial.
Fifty-seven years ago yesterday, the first wave of troops in the European invasion, code-named Operation Overlord, stormed the beaches of Normandy. On that day 19 men from Bedford in Company A, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division were killed within the first 15 minutes of the predawn attack, and two others died later that day. Within 24 hours, this town of 6,200 residents had lost more men in the invasion per capita than any other town in the country.
"Bedford has a special place in our history" Mr. Bush said. "But there were neighborhoods like these all over America, from the smallest villages, to the greatest cities, and somehow they all produced a generation of young men and women, who … gathered in advance as one and changed the course of history."
The memorial stands 44 feet high, with a 6-inch-thick granite arch reading "Overlord" and sculptures depicting the fighting and the soldiers struggles to take the French beaches.
Beneath the arch, Mr. Bush and three D-Day veterans laid a wreath at the sculpture "Final Tribute," which shows an inverted rifle, topped by dog tags and a helmet, stuck in the ground. The statue represents temporary gravesites of soldiers who died in combat.
Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said the more than 800 men from Virginia who fought in D-Day displayed valor and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for their country.
"They went to Normandy and beyond to punish oppression and to preserve freedom. They paid a terrible price," Mr. Gilmore said. "But the sons of democracy prevailed. By nightfall, they had shown once more what a free men are willing to do when freedom is in peril."
According to war historians, 1944-era Bedford, which had about 3,200 residents, had the highest per-capita loss of any community in the country. Company As 170 soldiers included 35 from Bedford; 14 survived the first days attack.
"I was in awe when we came on that beach. We had never been in combat. We hadnt seen combat yet. We had to start our jobs right away," said Paul C. Winters, who was a 19-year-old private 1st class medic when he landed on the beach code named Omaha.
With his fellow medics and soldiers in Company F of the 116th Regiment, Mr. Winters fought in what was known as "the longest day."
"Anytime anyone talks about D-Day, my blood turns cold," said Mr. Winters, a native of South Boston, Va., who now lives in New Holland, Penn. "We lost medics like mad. I even had to fight as an infantry man. I just had to take off my Red Cross badge and take a rifle and fight because we were short on men."
Hundreds of Mr. Winters fellow veterans who landed on beaches code-named Omaha, Sword, Juno, Gold and Utah said they were amazed the memorial recognizes the sacrifices of those who fought side by side in the 12-nation Allied coalition.
"Its long overdue. This is just unbelievable," Steve Romanzak, who operated the landing ships, or "Higgins boats," that brought the soldiers to the beaches.
The memorial stands on an 88-acre site overlooking the Peaks of Otter, nestled in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Lynchburg and Roanoke. It depicts the landing with sculptures on a replica of the beach, complete with two German "pill boxes," or machine-gun nests, hanging over the beach, where gunners fired at Allied troops. A small reflecting pool has one sculpture depicting a soldier wading to the beach.
Part of a World War II fighter plane and a ships bell, as well as the replica of a Higgins boat, represent the coordination of land, air and sea forces. Veterans yesterday choked back tears as they looked at the sculptures that evoke the agony, pain and horror of war. Two in particular, one of a dying soldier on his side struggling up the sand-colored stone and another titled "Scaling the Wall," inspired the veterans to tell their stories.
"What comes to mind is that the battle will never end," said Adam J. Damascus of New Jersey, a veteran of Company A, 115th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.
Mr. Damascus, 75, landed in Normandy on D-Day plus two — June 7, 1944 — as part of a support group for the infantry. Drafted out of high school in early 1944, Mr. Damascus was like many other citizen-soldiers who left their families and jobs to join the fight to free Europe of Nazi rule.
"We lost a lot of people," said D-Day veteran Hubert Williamson of Norfolk. "The boys that went to that beach were just kids. They were just like brothers."
After nearly six decades without a memorial to commemorate D-Day, veterans could barely contain their joy over having one. "This is long coming. This should have been done years ago," Mr. Williamson said, adding the memorial shows America is "a grateful nation."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide