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Park Service comes to Bedford

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Long before the National D-Day Memorial opened in Bedford a decade ago, skeptics expressed doubts about its location and its ability to draw enough visitors to remain economically viable. ...

    The privately run Memorial, in the Blue Ridge foothills between Lynchburg and Roanoke, has struggled financially from the start. Shortly after the monument and grounds opened to the public, the foundation overseeing the property filed for bankruptcy amid serious allegations of mismanagement.
    But the Memorial, under the leadership of Foundation President Dr. William McIntosh, was able to overcome that and paid off its bills. Still, like many other organizations at this time, coming up with the day-to-day finances can be a problem.
    Early skeptics may be tempted to say, “I told you so.” But the fact remains that the Memorial is where it is ... and it has served its purpose well, up to this point, even with the recent controversy over the Stalin bust continuing to be a contentious issue for some.
    The Memorial, however, could thrive under the leadership of the National Park Service.
    Last week, the Park Service held a community meeting in Bedford to launch a study of what duties the agency might assume in operating the Memorial. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb and others requested the study last year.
    A full takeover by the Park Service seems improbable, given budget constraints and the need to pursue other projects.  But the Park Service’s involvement in the National D-Day Memorial should be encouraged. Its presence would raise the Memorial’s profile nationally and bring a new level of interpretive and research capabilities to the property.
    Bedford was chosen as the site for the Memorial because the community suffered the highest per-capita losses in the invasion of any locality in America. Bedford's National Guard company was part of the first wave to land on Omaha Beach and was decimated — 19 men from the Bedford community were killed in a matter of minutes.
    The Memorial isn’t near any major city, as many critics have long pointed out. But its peaceful, picturesque setting carries undeniable power, and it is near several popular tourist destinations, including Jefferson National Forest.
    If publicized under the Park Service’s name, the Memorial can become a larger draw, establish a stronger financial footing and - most importantly - help ensure future generations know, remember and honor the heroic story of D-Day and the humbling sacrifice of the Bedford Boys.
    This is a good reason to support that effort. This community has had too much invested — both on June 6, 1944, and over the past decade in opening the Memorial to honor that day’s sacrifice — to have this national treasure fail to reach its full potential.
    The story is too important; the sacrifices too great and the ranks of the men who survived that day are getting thinner every day. The day is soon coming when nobody will have the opportunity to sit down with a living D-Day veteran and listen to him tell what he witnessed on that June morning in 1944. The NPS seems to be just the right fit to make sure none of what has been done was done in vain.

— Landmark News Service and Bedford Bulletin staff