The soldier on the beach is dying. Falling out of his rucksack is a Bible which is the only thing his family got back from that fateful June 6, 1944 day on a Normandy beach.
The “Death on Shore” sculpture is one absorbing detail in the 88- acre National D-Day Memorial located in Bedford, Va. Inspired by a local son whose Bible was returned to his family though his remains never were, it is one story in an array of many associated with this WWII monument that’s in the spotlight again this coming weekend.
Though the origin of the claim is unclear, the small town of Bedford between Roanoke and Lynchburg is said to have lost more boys per capita in D-Day than any other community in the country.
So the U.S. Congress supported placement of the memorial in the town that had about 3,000 population in 1944. The site acknowledges D-Day battles that launched Europe’s liberation in World War II, and the horrific loss of life (over 4,000 Allied soldiers) it cost. There are 21 headstones in the Bedford cemetery engraved with the same date: June 6, 1944.
Raymond Hoback was the soldier whose Bible was found by another and returned to his family with a letter of explanation. Raymond’s brother Bedford was also killed at D-Day, handing that family two casualties from the invasion. Their sister, Lucille, is still living in Bedford and has her brother’s Bible.
In all, 22 Bedford boys died in the invasion – two-thirds of the 30 mostly farm boys who left Bedford behind to serve. Their story inspired Alex Kershaw to write a book “The Bedford Boys.” All are all dead now, but the first Bedford resident to learn the devastating casualty news still lives. Elizabeth Teass, now age 82, was the teenage Western Union teletype operator at Green’s Drug Store. Her July 16 memories are about how the machine began to clatter with one dreadful message after another about the Bedford losses.
Other pieces of the monumental D-Day story are at the memorial site in three plazas. Reynold’s Garden, the first section, symbolizes the planning and preparation for the invasion. The second level depicts the landing and fighting invasion. It includes the invasion pool that contains beach obstacles placed in the surf by German forces, and a sculpture representing the Higgins craft used in the invasion. Intermittent jets of water spurt from the pool, replicated sporadic gunfire. Estes Plaza is the last section, and celebrates victory. Its centerpiece is the 44-foot high arch which represents victory for Operation Overlord.
When you call on Bedford and the National D-Day Memorial, consider other attractions in the surrounding region such as Poplar Forest – Thomas Jefferson’s retreat home – the scenic and historic Blue Ridge Parkway, Tuskegee Institute founder Booker T. Washington’s monument; and Smith Mountain Lake, a 20,000- acre recreation haven. And don’t miss the flavors from Homestead Creamery, maker of product that could win the world’s best ice cream award.
For more on what to do in and around Bedford, visit here.