Nestled in west central Virginia and surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, the James River to the northeast and Smith Mountain Lake to the south, Bedford, VA embodies a true sense of “small town America”. Upon arrival to this slightly out of the way place, visitors will find an unassuming community filled with many spectacular scenic views, but closer inspection will reveal that the town holds many additional treasures both literally and figuratively.
Bedford is home of the infamous Beale Treasure purported to contain over 30 million dollars worth of gold buried somewhere in the area in the early 1800’s. To this day no one has been able to decipher the cryptogram with the exact location of the treasure. In fact, there is considerable debate as to whether the entire story is a hoax. However, treasure seekers still continue to try to solve the mystery.
If the possibility of the buried treasure doesn’t capture your attention, Christmastime presents a treasure of a different sort as the Elks National Home, lights up the holiday season with a stunning display that draws in 100,000 visitors form around the world in early December. This, along with the Christmas display at Liberty Lake Park, has helped Bedford, VA become known as the “Christmas Capital of Virginia”.
On June 6, 1944 Bedford also earned another distinction as the town sustained the highest per capita loss of lives on D-Day in Normandy, France. Within the span of a single day, the community lost 19 citizen soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division of the National Guard. (The entire population of Bedford at that time was 3200.) For this reason, Congress chose Bedford as the site for the National D-Day Memorial which was dedicated on June 6, 2001 to memorialize “the valor, fidelity and sacrifice” of the Allied Forces on D-Day and to ensure that future generations would continue to remember and learn from that historic event.
The monument is a fitting tribute to that fateful day in which the future of the free world rested in the hands of 150,000 service men who had embarked on a mission of sacrifice, leaving 4000 of them dead and over 10,000 casualties. The careful planning of the memorial is evident as every detail seems to be steeped in symbolism - from the height of the triumphal arch inscribed OVERLORD (the allied code name for the Normandy landing) which is precisely 44’6” high to commemorate the date of June 6, 1944 to the way the very concrete was poured on the pedestrian walkway to resemble waves on the beaches.
The primary focus isn’t on technology, though it was important. The centerpiece of the memorial is the human aspect – the individual soldiers who faced nearly insurmountable odds as the ramp to their Higgins transport opened up on the beachhead and there was only one way to go – out 200 or more yards, slogging through the water and scaling cliffs with 80 lbs of gear, totally unprotected, surrounded by enemy fire, and immersed in chaos and devastation. Yet they persevered and thanks to the courage and sacrifice of these young men, many less than 20 years old who had never heard a gun fired in hostility before, the grip of oppression in Europe finally began to loosen as the Nazis stronghold had been penetrated.
It is very hard to imagine what it must have been like to survive the hell of those endless hours. However, visitors to the memorial are offered a glimpse into the emotions that must have been felt through the faces portrayed on the statues representing determination, teamwork, agony and even death. In a single moment visitors are captivated by the pride of the soldiers determined to carry out their duty intermingled with undeniable sadness of the dead and wounded soldiers along the path to victory. All the while the fountains shoot noisy bursts of water in random fashion to represent shots being fired on the beach capturing the attention of even the youngest of visitors - Another reminder that all of us, no matter what age, have in some way are affected by the events of that day.
To fully appreciate all the symbolism and history, a guided golf cart tour is highly recommended. The additional cost is nominal and our tourguide, a D-Day Veteran, was able to provide personal insight and detail which provided us with a much more meaningful experience.
In addition to being the home of the D-Day Memorial, the Beale Treasure and the “Christmas Capital of Virginia”, Bedford also has the “largest yellow poplar tree in the World” and “the largest tree in Virginia”, as well as “the oldest secondary school in the nation” - New London Academy. Though the town has many claims to fame, Bedford still maintains its sense of history, community pride and an easy going lifestyle that is sure to satisfy the treasure hunter in all of us.
For more information on the D-Day Memorial visit: http://www.dday.org/
Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (weather permitting)
Golf Cart Tours are available for an additional nominal fee - Recommended