June 6th marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion that liberated Europe from the Nazis during World War Two.
And while much of the world’s attention will be focused on events in France, one of the biggest commemorations in the U. S. will be here in Virginia.
The small town of Bedford, at the foot of the Blue Ridge between Roanoke and Lynchburg, has been home to the National D-Day Memorial since 2001.
Some 10 to 15 thousand people are expected to attend the 75th anniversary ceremony there on June 6th, according to the memorial's education director John Long. "A 75th anniversary, historically, is the last major anniversary where the participants can actually be there," Long said.
Anniversary events begin at 10:00 am on June 6th with a flyover of World War Two aircraft. A memorial ceremony begins at 11:00. The memorial announced Friday that Vice-President Mike Pence will deliver the ceremony's keynote address.
Long expects it to be one of the largest gatherings of Normandy veterans in the country. "We live in the shadow of what they accomplished. So this is our opportunity to say thank you to the ones who are left. Of course the vast majority of them have passed on now. But they’re still here and we need to hear their stories. We need to shake their hands and say thank you for what they did."
Registered veterans will get VIP parking and access. The public will have to park off-site and ride shuttle buses. Visitors will have to go through security checkpoints and use clear bags. And organizers say plan for the weather.
Other anniversary events begin Tuesday and continue through June 9th.
The National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford because the community suffered the highest per-capita losses of any place in the United States, according to Long. "Twenty men from Bedford were killed on D-Day, probably in the first hour of the invasion. And for a tiny community as it was in 1944, those are staggering losses." The city of Roanoke, which had about 100,000 residents in 1944, lost six, Long said. The impact on the town of Bedford was tremendous. "Everyone in town knew these men. Everyone knew their families, went to school with them, went to church with them. And so it was something that Bedford never recovered from."