Baumgartner Vaughan: D-Day’s 70th anniversary approaches

May. 24, 2014 @ 04:10 PM

Back when I was a reporter in Southwestern Virginia, I covered the June 6, 2001, opening of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. I left my home in Blacksburg at dawn, driving through several towns on the way to a rather small town, especially for a national memorial. But it’s there because Bedford lost the most soldiers, per capita, of anywhere else in the country on D-Day. 

The dedication was a long day and an exciting one. Thousands of people were there, including the president. It was an important story because it was part of a thousand stories of those who will never forget June 6, 1944, the day of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II. More than 9,000 soldiers were killed as they literally stormed the beaches. There were 150,000 Allied troops that first day, so you would think that Americans today would know all about it. Not necessarily so. There’s a reason we need to tell and retell history. D-Day was a military feat and a tragic reality of humanity. It has been recorded and adapted for books, film, television and every media out there, as well as remaining in the memories of men and women who are now elderly.

Of the many historical accounts of D-Day, historian Cornelius Ryan’s book about the battle, “The Longest Day,” comes to my mind first. There is also a comprehensive account by renowned war historian Stephen E. Ambrose. Ambrose, who wrote “Band of Brothers,” is author of the new expanded version of “D-Day Illustrated Edition: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II” (Simon & Schuster, $40). It’s hard to grasp the sheer size and scale of invasion, the losses, and the triumphs. So you take it on page by page in “D-Day Illustrated Edition” or person by person in the telling.
It’s been several years now since the warning that our WWII veterans were dying at the rate of 1,000 a day. But many are still here. Folks, I’d like your input for a story I’m working on about the 70th anniversary of D-Day. I want to write about that day sharing the experiences of both soldiers – if indeed, we still have D-Day veterans in Durham and Orange counties – and those on the homefront. Or the other war fronts. What were you doing when you got the news that D-Day was D-Day? Did you read it in the newspaper? Did someone tell you? Did you work in a factory that made the vehicles and munitions? Were you on a battlefield somewhere else? How did D-Day change your life?
My contact information is below. Like I said, the stories of D-Day have been told many times, but not by everyone and every time. It’s time to gather those stories here that are still to be shared, or worth sharing again. Seventy years is a long, long time. But it’s not a lifetime yet for those of you still here to tell the story. Tell us. We should hear it.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at dvaughan@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.