Open up D-Day Foundation and let sunshine in

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By James Morrison

It is time to open up the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, add new members to the foundation’s board, and let sunshine in on its planning, operations, and finances.  

    For years, the foundation has operated as a close-hold, private organization, run by a self-selected board of directors, which, in turn, selects a president. The foundation has held information about its plans, operations, and finances close to the vest.
    In reality, however, the National D-Day Memorial and the foundation that operates it are more of a public-private philanthropic venture than a private one.
    The public should be represented. New members should be added to the foundation board—including representatives of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors, the Bedford City Council, veterans’ organizations, and memorial volunteers. The board should share more information with the public. 
    The roles of government, veterans groups, and the public in the life of the memorial have been significant. It was through the efforts of a mayor of Bedford and a leader of Bedford County’s Board of Supervisors that Bedford was selected as the site for the memorial. The city of Bedford holds the deeds to some 80 acres of the property typically viewed as part of the memorial, including the gate area, the access road leading up to the memorial on top of the hill, and the surrounding buffer area. The foundation owns 8-11 acres on the hilltop where the Victory Arch and other parts of the memorial are located.
    Governments have been large contributors to the memorial foundation and its operations. The city of Bedford has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions plus services and property tax-exempt status. The Bedford County government has provided over $700,000 in support over the years. The city and county governments permit the foundation to post foundation employees in the government-owned Bedford Area Welcome Center to promote the memorial and sell tickets for visits to the memorial. The Commonwealth of Virginia has supported the foundation over the years with $7 million or more. At the initiative of the foundation and certain members of Congress from Virginia, the National Park Service is now studying the feasibility of including the memorial within the National Park System.
    Veterans groups, such as the American Legion, have in the past been supportive in raising funds for the memorial and assisting in ceremonies there.
    The public provides the volunteers who help operate the memorial, the visitors, and, of course, much of the revenue.
    The foundation is relatively secret about its current directors. Its Web site used to list its board members but appears no longer to do so. At least in the not too distant past, the board members were: Michael F. Moorman, board chairman, Thaxton, business background; vice chair Marsha U. Melton, Bedford, businesswoman; president Robin E. Reed, newly of Bedford, history and museum background; Richard C. Maxwell, Roanoke, attorney; Parham R. Fox, Lynchburg, doctor; and A.C. Coleman III, Big Island, businessman.
    The board’s judgment has been called into question by its support for placing busts of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and other political leaders at the memorial, a memorial whose purpose is to “honor the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of Allied forces on D-Day, 6 June 1944.” Erecting a bust of Stalin at the memorial was abominable, a desecration of hallowed ground where the D-Day dead are memorialized, and blatantly disrespectful of D-Day forces that have been neglected and not honored with statuary—the U.S. Navy, Army Air Forces, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and forces of nine D-Day Allies whose flags fly at the memorial. That the board would spend perhaps as much as $350,000 on the seven political busts around a time when its expenses were exceeding revenue, including a net loss of over $800,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, was fiscally irresponsible.
    That the board would take down the Stalin bust and some of the other political busts in the face of overwhelming public opposition and then plan to reinstall these busts indicates the present board is out of touch with public sentiment at least on this issue.
    Some questions the board should answer are:
    1. Is the board planning to reinstall the Stalin bust? When? Where? Why?
    2. Does the sculptor have any legal influence over the board in terms of what is done with the Stalin bust?
    3. What is the status of the scholarly discussion of the Stalin bust Mr. Reed has said he planned?
    4. What is the status of the community advisory group on the political busts that Mr. Reed planned?
    5. Who paid for the Stalin bust—the estate that was listed on the draft plaque but not on the final plaque, or the general public, or someone else?
    6. Who will pay for any reinstallation of the Stalin bust and other busts? Will it be the general public?
    7. How much will it cost to reinstall the Stalin bust and perhaps reinstall or move other political busts? 
    8. What was the revenue and expenses of the foundation at the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010? What are the revenues and expenses so far in 2011? (For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, the foundation had a net loss of $824,498, according to IRS Form 990.)
    9. How many letters and e-mails has the foundation received opposing the Stalin bust? How many in favor of the Stalin bust?
    10. How many individuals and organizations have stopped or suspended making donations because of the Stalin bust?
    11. What role did the foundation play in helping with the recent display featuring busts of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt at Lynchburg College?
    12. Does the foundation plan to commission and erect statuary honoring those D-Day forces that have been neglected in statuary?  When?
    13. What other changes to the memorial does the board plan?
    The public wants the best for the National D-Day Memorial. It deserves to be represented on the foundation board and kept informed. It is time to open up the board and let the sunshine in.