Sunday, September 12, 2010

Exploring SW Virginia - Booker and the Bedford Boys

Day two of our trip to southwest Virginia, Saturday September 4, 2010.  After having a hearty country breakfast at the Stonewall Bed & Breakfast outside of Floyd, we headed toward Bedford and Lynchburg.  Driving through the wooded rolling hills on a clear sunny September day was really wonderful.  We were headed to Bedford when we happened upon the Booker T. Washington National Memorial a few miles NE of Rocky Mount. 

Following our credo of "carpe diem", we stopped to check it out.

Booker was born a slave but emancipated after the Civil War.  He later went on to attain his education, became the guiding force behind Tuskegee College, the first such college for blacks.  Booker became a national leader in civil rights and was a proponent of working with the white establishment in a way that proved blacks could be productive and responsible citizens, rather than adversarialy.  He authored four books and advised several presidents.  It is quite a compelling success story.

The Memorial is on the site where Booker T. was born and lived until he was nine.  None of original buildings still stand but several have been reconstructed.  On the left is a small barn and demonstration tobacco crop (a staple of 19th century Virginia farms, in case you didn't know) and on the right is a replica of the slave house into which he was born. 

Having taken that small detour we then pressed on to Bedford and the National D-Day Memorial.  "Why" you ask "is the National D-Day Memorial in such a remote location?"  Good question.  Here's the answer, as best we understand the story.  During the early days of WWII about 35 young men from Bedford VA enlisted into the local National Guard Regiment.  These young men would eventually become known as the "Bedford Boys".

As the war heated up this Guard unit was activated, becoming Company A of the 116th Infantry Division.  Some thirty Bedford Boys were still in the same company on D-Day; several others were in other D-Day companies.  Transported by a British Flotilla, Company A landed on Omaha Beach in the first wave of the attack.  By day's end, 19 of the company's Bedford soldiers were dead.  For a town of 3,200, they suffered the highest proportion of casualties on D-Day of any town or city in America.  Decades later, when Congress authorized the memorial, Bedford was chosen to represent that sacrifice.  

We took a guided tour of the whole memorial, with a wonderful guide who really helped us learn about the day and the monument.  It was really hard to pick just a few pictures for this blog.

The entry itself is designed to evoke the feeling of the memorial and D-Day.

The tour starts off in a garden area with busts of the key allied generals involved in D-Day, but the most prominent, of course, is reserved for "Ike", General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He has a larger-than-life statue under a cupola.  The ceiling of the cupola is a mosaic tile map of the D-Day invasion plan.

From "Ike's" vantage point, he overlooks the plaza where statues commemorating the invasion are placed.  A plaque on the far wall explains the invasion on the five different beaches.

The expansive plaza symbolizes the English Channel crossing (l).  The surrounding walls are lined with plaques inscribed with the name of every allied soldier from every country who died in the invasion (r).

As you approach the sculpted scene, you find a series of statues that attempt to evoke the invasion and call attention to valor, sacrifice, and fidelity.  The sounds of bullets hitting the water, splashes in all, were simulated to make the scene more life-like.

And from the top, the view of soldiers breaching the cliff is amazing....

Leading inland (top left and right) and a symbol of sacrifice (bottom).

A Purple Heart Monument is also dedicated to those who sacrificed during the D-Day invasion.

The arch entitled Overlord (the code name for the D-Day invasion) stands high above the entire site.

This monument is a gem - one of the best we have seen.  It really made us take pause to appreciate all that was sacrificed for freedom that day!

PS ... learn more about the National D-Day Memorial by clicking here.

PPS .... the last surviving "Bedford Boy" died in April, 2009.

Next up - Natural Bridge and Poplar Forest.


CallinaP said...

Wow,this memorial looks INCREDIBLE!! I'm sure those photos don't even do it justice, but I am blown away.

Anonymous said...

You're right, that is such an impressive memorial; Dad & I do remember D-Day. As 13 & 14 yr. wonderful it as to feel that the war was finally over.