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Bust will honor Bob Slaughter

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By John Barnhart

    The National D-Day Memorial Foundation is launching a fundraising drive to install a bust of Bob Slaughter at the National D-Day Memorial. The bust, with an accompanying plaque, is slated to be dedicated on Memorial Day.

    The Memorial is there, to a great extent, due to Slaughter’s efforts.
    Slaughter was a D-Day veteran. He had joined the Virginia National Guard when he was 15  shortly before America’s entry into World War II. He lied about his age in order to do this — it was an opportunity to earn some extra money. Five days after his 16th birthday, Slaughter and other Guardsmen boarded a train on Feb. 8, 1941, for what they thought was a year of active duty training. The Japanese changed the whole picture for these young men when that nation bombed Pearl Harbor 10 months later
    On June 6, 1944, Slaughter came ashore on Omaha Beach as a 19-year-old sergeant in command of a heavy machine gun crew. He fought all the way to the meeting of American and Russian forces at the Elbe River, in Germany, in April, 1945, being wounded twice in the process.
    In the late 1980s, Slaughter felt that an appropriate memorial, something larger than a granite block in front of a courthouse, was needed. He along with several other supporters formed a committee to raise funds and search for an appropriate location for a small memorial in 1987.
    This ultimately became the National D-Day Foundation which, in 1994, received a tract on a hilltop from the city of Bedford. Slaughter was chairman of the Foundation’s board of Directors from 1994 to 2001. Bedford was chosen as the site for the national memorial because it suffered the greatest per-capita loss of life of any single American community on D-Day.
    Of the 35 Bedford area soldiers that went ashore with Company A, only 12 survived. Nineteen of the 23 Bedford casualties died in the first 15 minutes of battle. In all, 96 percent of the men in Company A were killed or wounded that day.
     The dream of a national memorial honoring the sacrifice of the men who waded ashore on a French beach, under withering German gunfire, took its first step toward becoming a concrete reality when several hundred people gathered on the crest of that cold, windy Bedford hilltop on Veterans Day, back in 1997.
    The National D-Day Memorial was ultimately dedicated on June 6, 2001, a hot, sunny day, and Slaughter accompanied President George W. Bush at the dedication, which drew approximately 20,000 people to Bedford.