BEDFORD, Va. – In a stirring tribute to the D-Day sacrifices of American soldiers and their allies, the U.S. military’s top officer said Sunday that World War II’s defining moment should remind all that returning warriors need not “suffer in quiet desperation.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke in the peaceful setting of this small town, which bore the heaviest share of American losses in the June 6, 1944, landings on the beaches of Normandy. The National D-Day Memorial was established here in 2001 as a tribute to those who died in the invasion of German-occupied Europe.
Mullen drew a parallel with the needs and aspirations of the men and women returning from today’s battlefields, many with the invisible psychological wounds of war.
“They, too, have seen and done things we cannot know,” he said. “Their lives, too, are forever changed. And just as previous generations of heroes did, they must likewise adjust themselves to peace.”
The memorial tells the D-Day tale with details steeped in symbolism, including the height of the triumphal arch inscribed “Overlord,” the code name for the operation. The arch is 44 feet, 6 inches high to commemorate the year and month of the landings. Concrete was poured on the pedestrian walkway to resemble waves on the beaches of Normandy.
On D-Day – 2 1/2 years after Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor – Allied forces charged the shores of five beaches on France’s northern coast. They faced entrenched German forces, land mines, machine guns and heavy artillery.
About 215,000 Allied soldiers, and roughly as many Germans, were killed or wounded on D-Day and in the ensuing three months before the allies took control at Normandy, opening a path toward Paris that eventually took them to Germany and victory over the Nazis.
Congress chose Bedford for the memorial because it suffered more deaths on D-Day than any other American community in proportion to its population.