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The massive Overlord Arch overlooks the memorial in Bedford, Va./National D-Day Memorial

The Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina and is well-known for its scenic natural beauty and biodiversity. Come June, however, eyes will turn to one of the most striking man-made structures near the Parkway: The National D-Day Memorial. The massive 88-acre memorial is more campus than statue with its 44-foot-tall Overlord Arch, imaginative water landing feature, and tributes to the men and women who served America during one of its most dire battles. It provides a sobering education about the perils of WWII.

“The Memorial is the nation’s monument to D-Day, however, it’s very fitting for it to be located in Bedford, Va., the town that suffered a higher per capita loss of life on D-Day than any other community in the U.S.,” said Nicole Johnson, who promotes Bedford County.

As June 6, 1944, drew to a close, 19 soldiers from Bedford were dead and another four died during the Normandy campaign. Bedford’s population at the time was just 3,200.

Activities June 4-9 will mark the 75th anniversary of the landing, with June 6 events including an aerial tribute to the veterans at 10 a.m.

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Various locations around the D-Day Memorial’s water feature demonstrate the different challenges faced by those who stormed the beaches at Normandy./National D-Day Memorial

“The flyover will include vintage WWII planes of the types present on D-Day,” said the memorial’s Angela Lynch. “This will give everyone a sense of what the sky was like.”

The flyover will kick-off a Final Salute Commemoration Observance recognizing veterans and D-Day participants. “We realize that this may be the last major ceremony our WWII veterans can attend so we are asking them to register online so they can participate in the Normandy Veteran Roll Call,” Lynch said.

There will be WWII reenactors, exhibits and activities all day.

A USO-style concert takes place on June 7, and on June 8 a Parade of the Greatest Generation will wind through Bedford.

Visit anytime

A visit to Bedford and the National D-Day Memorial at any time creates a wonderful experience for the whole family.

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Obstacles faced the troops storming Normandy both on and off the beach. The town of Bedford, Va., lost more men per capital on D-Day than any other./National D-Day Memorial

Insider tip: Stand in the “Landing Craft” to see the beach obstacles as they appeared to soldiers charging to the beach.

Follow the paths to see the plaques and statues honoring specific heroes like “Ike” Eisenhower, as well as units of anonymous soldiers, and America’s Gold Star Families.

In town, take the Bradford Boys Homefront Tour to see the kinds of sacrifices made by townspeople in Bedford and across America.

Step out of the WWII era and enjoy the county’s more than 30 miles of hiking and biking trails or sip your way along the six wineries of the Bedford Wine Trail. Take the short drive to Peaks of Otter Lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway for spectacular views and hikes as well as dining and accommodations.

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Even a landlubber like the writer can master navigating a houseboat on Smith Mountain Lake./Jane Bond

For adventures on the water, nearby Smith Mountain Lake offers boating, swimming, fishing and various types of accommodations. Try renting a house boat for a different kind of vacation experience. You’ll receive ample instruction and enjoy the family experience. Or, take a 2-hour sightseeing cruise aboard the Virginia Dare, a replica of a 19th century side-wheeler.

For more information:

Bedford Co. Tourism: visitbedford.com

National D-Day Memorial: dday.org

Smith Mountain Lake: visitsmithmountainlake.com

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