DEDICATION OF D-DAY MEMORIAL SITE NEARS
National D-Day Foundation director expects 4,000-6,000 at Monday's ceremony in Bedford
It isn't finished, but it's important to give World War II veterans a glimpse of what will come, the architect said..
By Tad Dickens
The Roanoke Times
May 25, 2000
KELLY HAHN JOHNSON/THE ROANOKE TIMES
The sculpture "Across the Beach," already installed at the National D-Day Memorial site in Bedford, will be joined by "Death on the Shore"
at an unveiling on Memorial Day.
BEDFORD - Every day the cars roll slowly up the long driveway to the National D-Day Memorial site .
Sometimes there are hundreds of them a day. Sometimes tour buses full of camera-toting strangers are in the mix, said the memorial's architect.
Lately, visits by the curious have been steadier. The Overlord Arch has risen atop Bedford's tallest hill, and part of its Victory Plaza has taken shape.
On Monday - Memorial Day - thousands will make the trip to officially dedicate the plaza and arch and to remember the soldiers who fought and died liberating France from Nazi Germany in World War II.
But how many thousands will there be? The answer could be a logistical challenge for planners.
National D-Day Foundation Director Richard Burrow said the site can handle 6,000 people. He said he expects between 4,000 and 6,000.
But the Virginia Department of Transportation estimates 10,000. Bedford Police Chief Milton Graham said attendance for past memorial site events has doubled the foundation's estimates.
For those who plan to attend the 10 a.m. observance, the message is simple, Graham said: Get there early.
"The key is, the foundation people tell me this ceremony is going to start at 10 o'clock no matter what," he said. "If they don't leave early, they could miss part of it, or all of it, depending on the weight of the traffic."
Car pooling is a good idea, too, planners said. The memorial site, neighboring Bedford Elementary School and a city-owned strip of land along the memorial's driveway, can hold up to 1,500 cars, Graham said. Yet Burrow said 2,500 will fit.
Twelve Bedford County school buses will shuttle visitors up the hill, Burrow said.
Police will direct overflow to nearby Liberty Lake Park, and other parking areas are available if the school yard and memorial space fill up, Graham said.
Still, the memorial, which is by no means finished, will only hold so many, Burrow said. The foundation has 3,500 chairs and standing room for about 2,500 more people.
Most visitors will be from the Lynchburg, Roanoke and Bedford County areas, Burrow said. Others will come from across the country, mostly from the eastern seaboard. An entourage of 47 visitors from Normandy, France, will be there, along with mayors of four Normandy towns.
They'll see a two-hour event featuring the spoken memories of soldiers who participated in the invasion.
One of the speakers will be Bob Slaughter of Roanoke, the memorial foundation's chairman. Slaughter was instrumental in bringing the memorial project to life.
Other speakers include Walter Ehlers, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions; Len Lomell, a Distinguished Service Cross recipient; and Jimmy Green, a British Royal Navy flotilla commander. Green's group of six Higgins boats brought ashore 35 soldiers from Bedford and Bedford County. Twenty-three of them died at Normandy.
Jeannie Schulz, widow of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, will speak and cut the ribbon at the arch and plaza. Schulz became chairwoman of the foundation's national fund-raising campaign after her husband's death.
The family of Bedford and Raymond Hoback, brothers killed early in the invasion, will unveil a new statue, "Death on the Shore."
The U.S. Navy Ceremonial Band and Sea Chanters will perform.
Guests will include Bill Mauldin, the pre-eminent World War II cartoonist who was Charles Schulz's mentor and friend.
Sens. Charles Robb and John Warner and Reps. Virgil Goode and Bob Goodlatte will be there, as will Del. Lacey Putney of Bedford and Lt. Gov. John Hager.
What they and the others will see is something its architect calls a "work in progress."
"To those of us who are close to it, we see that it's not finished," said Byron Dickson of Dickson Architects and Associates. "You're always concerned that they take away an image of incompleteness," Dickson said of the visitors.
But it was important to give World War II veterans, and especially D-Day veterans, a glimpse of what will come, he said.
"The reason is, many of these veterans won't be here next year," he said. "The ranks of veterans are dwindling, and D-Day vets are an even smaller number than that. We're very aware of the fact that what we're trying to do is get the commemorative statement, show faith with all of the veterans.
"This is for the veterans - not for the visitors as much as it is for the veterans."