There is perhaps no place more appropriate in which to remember the magnitude of the sacrifice of those who stormed ashore on D-day than Bedford, Va., a town of 6,000 that’s 200 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.
If you’ve heard of Bedford, it’s likely because of the Bedford Boys, 30 National Guard soldiers from Bedford who landed on France’s Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944.
By day’s end, 19 Bedford soldiers were dead. Four more died later in the Normandy campaign.
Proportionately, the town of Bedford, then about 3,200 residents, suffered the nation’s most severe D-day losses.
In 1996, Congress warranted the establishment of a National D-day Memorial in Bedford; after significant planning and fundraising, it was dedicated June 6, 2001, by President George W. Bush.
Veterans have always conducted tours at the memorial, including Charles “Buster” Shaeff, 89, machinist mate on Navy LST 291 and one of the Bedford Boys.
He and other surviving Bedford Boys and family members find the tours a fitting tribute, and a way to open up dialogue about World War II.
“I kept the memories mostly to myself until the memorial opened,” Shaeff said. “It brought back the memories but made it easier to talk about what happened that day.”
American, Canadian and British forces landed at five beaches in Normandy in what was called Operation Overlord.
“We hit the beach and dropped anchor about 3 a.m. on D-day morning at the foot of Pointe du Hoc,” Shaeff said of the 100-foot cliff that overlooks the English Channel. “We ran [the soldiers] off the boat and started back to make another run. They left the boat and started climbing.”
The invasion was the turning point of the war in Europe.
By September, most of France had been liberated. On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
On May 8, 1945, V-E Day (Victory in Europe) marked the surrender of the Nazis to the Allied Forces.
Follow us on Twitter at @latimestravel