SADNESS, PRIDE, REVERENCE, REMEMBRANCE FILL CEREMONY
People from all over the country were there to show support for those whom the memorial commemorates.
By ZEKE BARLOW
The Roanoke Timer
Natalee Waters/The Roanoke Times
Virgil Coleman bows his head as he listens to speakers give their accounts of what happened on Normandy's beaches June 6, 1944.
Announcers didn't need to remind people that Monday was a solemn day of reverence.
If the dreary weather and stories of death and war didn't set the mood, then the long faces of those who were remembering their piece of D-Day at the national memorial in Bedford did.
The crowd of 6,000 people was dotted with men who witnessed the largest land assault the world has ever seen. The proud, gray-haired men held their heads high as fellow veterans told their harrowing tales of D-Day, then bowed their heads low as taps was played for those who never got to tell their tale.
People from all over the country who had a memory of the war were present to show their support for those whom the national memorial commemorates.
People like Mozelle Crenshaw, who was 24 years old when she stopped working in restaurants and started working in a Portsmouth munitions plant, making 5-inch shells that were used by the boys in Europe.
Crenshaw, now 81 and living in Victoria, Va., gazed into the eyes of the desperate, brave soldier in the sculpture "Across the Beach" as she retold the memory of being a "Rosie the Riveter."
She recalled when work stopped in the plant while a chaplain's voice boomed over the loudspeaker asking people to pray for the troops because the D-Day invasion had begun.
Monday, she looked up at the sculpture with the newly dedicated arch looming above it.
"It makes you sad inside," she said.
Sadness was plentiful on day of gray skies and pained memories.
As speakers gave their horrific accounts of what happened almost 56 years ago, some of the veterans whose hats were heavy with medals closed their eyes, as though they, too, were reliving the horrors of war on that day.
Others, who knew the pains but experienced them in Vietnam, Korea or Kuwait, listened to the familiar tales of war.
Soldiers in the first wave of D-Day who were present needed no reminder that they represented only half of the troops who participated that day. They knew the other half died in the siege.
" I've only met two or three guys who can look me in the eye and tell me they were in the first wave," said Edgar Parsons, from Chapel Hill, N.C., who served his time in the European theater. "All the others are dead."
Monday may have been the largest collection of D-Day veterans the world has seen.
They are old men now, not the ones memorialized in bronze on the Bedford hilltop, but they held fast to their memories and pride and courage from D-Day.
Jack Hoffler remembers D-Da y clearly, although at the time he was boy. The youngest one there, in fact.
Hoffler was living in Hertford, N.C., when he saw his buddies go off to fight. Although he knew many would never come back, he had the burn to join in.
At 14, he joined the war with the help of a Navy recruiting officer who fibbed to say Hoffler was 17. When he was 15, he was opening the doors of boat that carried troops onto Normandy's beaches. He was the youngest combat soldier in the Allied forces that day.
Now 71, Hoffler carries a card in his wallet that details that distinction. And he beamed as he looked up at the massive "Overlord" archway above him.
"It's been a long time coming."