71 years ago, on June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 Allied troops landed along a heavily fortified, 50-mile stretch of French coastline in the historic operation known as D-Day. By day’s end, after heavy fighting and casualties, the Allies had gained a valuable foothold in the effort to liberate Europe from Hitler’s control.
Few are left who have first-hand knowledge of that fateful time but, fortunately, we can learn their stories by touring the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Coincidentally, June 6 is the 15th anniversary of the Museum, which originally opened in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum. What started as one building has grown into a sprawling campus with five pavilions, giving visitors the opportunity to witness reenactments, listen to oral histories, and study exhibits that will teach and inspire through lessons of World War II.
Participants in the D-Day invasion were members of what journalist Tom Brokaw would later describe as the “greatest generation any society has ever produced.” The community of Bedford, Virginia, sacrificed many of that generation on that fateful day. Bedford had provided a company of soldiers to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on 3 February 1941. Nineteen of the thirty Bedford soldiers still in that company were killed on D-Day. Congress, in recognition of Bedford as representative of all communities across the United States whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial, which was dedicated on June 6, 2001 by President George W. Bush.
Pay a visit to either the Museum or the Memorial and you will leave with a better understanding of the scale of the operations and the sacrifices made not just during the D-Day invasion, but all of World War II. And, more than likely, you will be slowly nodding your head in agreement with Tom Brokaw.