BEDFORD, Va. – On a high hilltop far from any ocean, a monument is
rising for the 6,603 Americans who fell on the sands and sank in the
waves while storming ashore in the largest military landing in history.
The site won’t be dedicated for another year, but on this Memorial
Day a crowd of some 6,000 is expected for the unveiling of a statue of
a fallen soldier.
The question is, why here?
Why is the National D-Day Memorial being built in Bedford, a small
town little known outside the Blue Ridge of southern Virginia, away
from anywhere associated with a mighty armada in World War II? The
answer is likely to wet the eyes and constrict the throats of any who
hear the story of the sons of Bedford, and the story of their mothers
and fathers and sisters and brothers.
What happened June 6, 1944, on the beaches of Normandy, France, was
brutal. What happened weeks later in this quiet town overlooked by the
towering twin Peaks of the Otter was brutal, too.
It was 8:30 a.m. on a Monday in mid-July when Elizabeth Teass
reported for work at Green’s Drug Store and took her seat at a teletype
machine. She’d no sooner rung the bell that signaled good morning to
the Western Union office in Roanoke, Va., than it messaged back: “We
She can’t remember now how many telegrams came that day. Was it
seven, was it nine? She does know every one began, “The Secretary of
War desires me to express his deep regret that your son … “
There were just 3,200 residents here then, and word spread fast.
People began coming into Green’s, crowding outside the doors. Teass had
to keep it confidential. The drug store’s delivery boy was dispatched
with sealed telegrams for families in town. The sheriff and the town’s
one taxi driver were sent hurrying off with the wires for those on
That wasn’t the end of it. Time would pass, a time remembered as
one of a silence that settled like a shroud over the community – and
here would come another dreaded telegram.
Before it was done, there were 23 of them. That was for the dead.
There were others, too, regretting to inform of some boy wounded in
action, another boy missing, some believed prisoners of war.
No place in America suffered a higher per capita loss in the
assault on Fortress Europe than Bedford, according to war historians.
That’s why it was chosen as the home of the national memorial to all
who fell. As former Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh said at the
groundbreaking, “Memories are best kept by those who love the greatest
and by those who lost the most.”
I mean it, read it all.