The director of the foundation that runs the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., hopes a National Park Service takeover can save his financially struggling memorial.
Virginia’s senators introduced language into the National Defense Authorization Act to assess the feasibility of adding the memorial to the list of monuments and historic sites owned and operated by the Park Service.
The bill passed Thursday, but swift action by the Department of the Interior is essential.
“If the Park Service proceeds with its evaluation in a timely fashion, then that would put the memorial in a very good position to be ceded to the Park Service,” said William McIntosh, the president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
Otherwise, he fears, it will be too late.
“As we move into mid-autumn, if we don’t have a conclusion reached by then, we’re right back in very serious conditions, if we make it that far,” Mr. McIntosh said.
On the eve of the 65th anniversary of D-Day in June, the foundation announced that it did not have enough money to sustain operations until the end of the year.
Congress designated Bedford, located more than 200 miles southwest of the District and 115 miles west of Richmond, as the site of the nation’s National D-Day Memorial in 1996. With a 1944 population of 3,200, the community is thought to have sustained the most per-capita losses in the nation on D-Day.
In the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, 19 Virginia Army National Guard members from the town died.
“I am pleased that a study will now be conducted to put the National D-Day Memorial - an important part of both Virginia and our nation’s cultural history - on track to be a part of the U.S. National Park system,” said Sen. Jim Webb, who co-sponsored the provision introduced by fellow Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.
Mr. Warner and Mr. Webb, both Democrats, introduced stand-alone legislation June 8 calling for a federal study of the memorial to complement legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Perriello, Virginia Democrat.
The amendment is a victory for Mr. McIntosh, who said he has been requesting congressional assistance since 2001.
“I wish it had happened eight years ago because I think if it had, this project would be vastly more secure,” he said.
The memorial has an average of 85,000 to 90,000 visitors per year, the majority of whom come from outside the commonwealth. Expenses run about $2.2 million annually, only $600,000 of which comes from visitors. Donations are already down in the poor economy, and the main donors - World War II veterans - are dying every day.
The foundation has a mere $300,000 available to cover operating expenses, Mr. McIntosh said, and an endowment of $400,000. Although construction put the foundation $7 million in debt, Mr. McIntosh said the foundation now operates debt-free.
Mr. McIntosh said he thinks the memorial’s purpose and lack of debt makes it fitting for the Park Service to assume control.
“We bring, I think, a critical chapter to the story the National Park Service tells about the role of this nation in World War II,” he said. “We’re not just coming to the National Park Service with our hands out, we’re also coming with our arms full.”
After all, Mr. McIntosh said, it’s not just about Bedford.
“Bedford is really an emblem for all of the heartland communities, large and small, that provide citizens as soldiers to serve in our armed forces,” he said. “It is to honor the valor, fidelity and the sacrifice of the allied forces on D-Day. That’s a huge number of people. It’s much larger than 19.”