From the little brick reststop, we rode along toward Bedford, Virginia. They put a movie in about the town that described the why of what we would be seeing when we got there. About half of the flat screens worked. A few of the others flickered and struggled, but couldn’t keep a picture. One screen had been peeled off the plaque like an old bandage to reveal a shiny, plastic scar.
It was a moderately moving documentary about the D-Day invasion and the terrible losses of Bedford, Virginia, a town that had lost more men per capita to the invasion than any other town in America.
They lost 19 just on that day.
Bedford had a local reserve unit stationed in town. A lot of the farm boys, all poor as church mice, had enlisted in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor to make a few extra bucks one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. When the war came, they were called up. When the allies invaded Normandy, they were part of it and many of them were killed.
Only a scant handful made it back after the war and not all of them saw the loss of their brothers and school friends as a noble sacrifice. One of them very pointedly said they’d died in vain.
Among the children of the Greatest Generation sitting on that bus, people gasped and complained that the makers of the documentary shouldn’t have let that guy speak, that he wasn’t patriotic.
Jan, with her military son, was the most vocal about it, but all of us, I think, had been raised on the notion that World War II was the last good war. There were very clear bad guys: the Nazis with their death camps and pulp fiction experiments; Imperial Japan with their sneak attacks, kamikaze pilots and death marches; Fascist Italy and their… well, Mussolini was a dick.
I think we can all agree on that. Benito Mussoline might have been less of a monster than Hitler or Hirohito (or Stalin, for that matter, who was on our side for most of the war, but a murderer of incredible proportions), but he was still a giant, Italian dick that nobody really misses.
Over the years, I've come to take the hero worship of the previous generations with a grain of salt. The Greatest Generation was just the first generation to have really good publicity. History these days isn't written just by the victors, but by assholes with marketing degrees who work for advertising firms and political think tanks.
Still, it was a little refreshing to hear someone honestly say that the rest of the world (or about half of it anyway) could go to hell, if they could just have their friends, their family and maybe their innocence back.
In Bedford, before we got to the D-Day Monument, they herded us into another rest stop, this one more modern with lots of glass, a little gift shop with crap to buy and a meeting room where they fed us quarters of chicken and a nice selection of starches.
The peach cobbler was thoroughly disappointing --like something served in a middle school cafeteria. I felt tainted for putting it in my mouth.
Funny thing, I ran into the brother of my high school government teacher. He managed the restaurant that provided the catering. We didn't talk about the food, just how his brother, my former government teacher had at the age of about 45 had gone back to school and gotten his law degree.
Running well behind schedule (because we needed to see the walls of pamphlets and visit the gift shop before the actual attraction) we only got about 30 minutes at the actual memorial, which was pretty amazing.
Opened in 2001, the memorial is a solemn and moving tribute to the sacrifices made in the name of freedom that spans over 88 acres, represents every country involved with the invasion and the property includes a garden, sculpture and space for reflection.
Visitors can wander the grounds at their own speed or take one of the guided tours. According to tour coordinator, Jim, the full tour can take up to two hours.
Jim was full of stories and in his half hour made the morning drive almost worth it, but we only got the 30 minutes and then they wanted to get us on the bus. We needed to get to Wytheville in time for dinner.