Tuesday, May 23, 2023

D-Day: The Bedford Boys Tribute Center

 We are coming up on the month of June.

There are two significant dates for our family in the month of June; but, this particular year our interest was brought into even sharper focus by what I had expected to be a rather mundane visit to a small town museum.  It turned out to be very significant.

June 3rd

Some years ago, we donated the diary and personal effects of Lt. Benjamin Draper, of Milford, Delaware


Lt. Benjamin Draper and Fiance from Milford, DE

If I remember correctly, there is a handwritten note in his possessions that indicate that his fiance never married.  Soldiers are not the only casualties of war.  While none of my family are directly related to either, we feel a special responsibility to keep the memories of their sacrifice alive. 

Lt. Draper was killed on June 3, 1864 at the battle of Cold Harbor.  He is buried in the Cold Harbor National Battlefield Cemetery.   That is why June 3rd continues to have a special place in our hearts.

June 6th

As a child born during World War II, D-Day has also occupied a special place in my memory.  I have visited the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia many times over the years.

I live in the Washington, DC area.  And, in the 1970's I was hired by the National Park Service to produce videos in many of the nations national parks and historical sites.  So, I have seen many impressive national monuments to those who fought in our nation's wars.  But, none are as impressive to me than the Natonal D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.  It captures the experience like no other monument I have seen.

My mother-in-law was born and raised in Bedford.  And, this weekend, I traveled once again to visit the town for a memorial service for her brother and his wife who passed earlier this year.

We had some time between the service and a family dinner later that day and decided to use that time touring a local museum in town called the Bedford Boys Tribute Center.  My back was giving me some issues so I wasn't all that keen on going and, frankly, didn't expect much from the visit.  

It turned out to be one of the most moving and significant experiences in my life.

June 6 will never be the same for me.  While significant before, it now holds a very special place, with a whole new meaning. And, that is all due to the way the founders ans curators have told the story with so many personal effects, letters and images of the very first casualties of the D-Day invasion and built upon that to tell the stories of others in every branch of the service who served in WWII.  

Green's Pharmacy - Bedford Boys Tribute Center

The Bedford Boys Tribute Center is located in the former Green's Pharmacy.  The site, itself, is significant because this is where, as teenagers, the Bedford boys would take their dates for sodas and icecream.  But, it is also significant for it's role in receiving the news, on June 17, of the tragedy that had hit the town on the beaches of Normandy in the first hours of the invasion of June 6th.

The Teletype that broke the news

The Bedford Boys Images and Personal Effects

Imagine being a 23 year old woman who is suddenly faced with message after message bearing the news of the death of someone that she knew well.  Bedford is, and was, a very small town and suffered the greatest percentage of casualties than any other town in America.  Nineteen were killed in a single landing and one was killed in a different location.

Because of the wonderful way the curators have told the stories of these men, the families of other soldiers, sailors and marines have entrusted them with the artifacts of others that have served in every theater of operations in WWII.  And, in fact, I plan to donate the Cruise Book for the USS Bataan, on which my uncle, James Willard Simpson, endured the constant threats of kamikaze attacks.  Like Lt. Draper, my uncle had no children, and it seems fitting that he be remembered for his service in a place that knows how to tell his story so well.  

I am grateful that I agreed to make that visit in spite of my initial reluctance.  It was a highlight that I shall never forget and I hope that others will have that same experience.  You will not come away the same as you entered.  Kenneth and Linda Parker have done something wonderful.  

Please take the time to visit the National D-Day Memorial and the Bedford Boys Tribute Center 

P.S.  While you are in the area I would also encourage you to visit Appomattox Courthouse National Park where you can see the restored Plunkett-Meeks Store, owned by Albert Francis Meeks, my great-great-grandfather at the time of Lee's surrender.

Plunkett-Meeks Store Interior - Appomattox Courthouse

Memorial Day is coming up on May 29.  But, please keep the days June 3rd and June 6th in mind to remember that the sacrifices people made were individual and personal.  And, not only for those that died; but, for those that loved them dearly.

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