BEDFORD, Va. (WFXR) — Sunday marked the 77th anniversary of D-Day, a pivotal moment in World War II when between 5,000 and 12,000 Allied soldiers died when over 150,000 Allied troops selflessly stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, ultimately leading to the end of WWII.
Hundreds of people took the time to honor those who fought at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
Historians say there are just under 2,000 D-Day veterans in the U.S. who are still living, a number that continues to fall as time goes on. The memorial hosted at least three of them this weekend, including the last living eyewitness of the German surrender agreement that ended WWII in Europe.
D-Day Army veteran, 98-year-old Luciano “Louis” Charles Graziano, spoke with WFXR News this weekend. He recalls setting up the table before the German surrender agreement in Reims, France.
“I set their names up in front of each chair where they were going to sit…The Germans didn’t have anything to say about it they were just straight faces…After they signed the papers and all I took them to general Eisenhower’s room which was a couple of rooms up the hall.”
Graziano went into the Army as a Private. In less than two years, he became a Master Sergeant. He says he remembers working closely with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in the mid-1940s, saying that many believe Eisenhower was in the room during the agreement, but he wasn’t.
“He didn’t want to be in the room in case they decided not to sign.”
Graziano tells WFXR News that the question people ask him the most is how he felt when the Germans signed to surrender.
“They want to know how I felt when the Germans signed the surrender. I say I was happy because I knew we were going to get to go home,” said Graziano.
The National D-Day Memorial plans to educate younger generations on stories like Graziano’s.
According to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation’s Associate Director of Marketing, Angela Lynch, “We have plans in the future for an education center which will further allow us to tell the story beyond what you see here at the monument — exhibit space — just a nice area where people can continue to learn.”
She adds that they’re currently fundraising to put that plan into action.
“It’s really important for us to be reaching out to the younger generations. That allows us to have more space for our school programs, for our camp programs, but just for the general public, as well,” said Lynch.
The memorial is also offering virtual programs for those who cannot visit in person.
Editor’s Note from an 8News affiliate: WFXR News previously reported that 2,500 American soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy. The story has been updated to reflect accurate numbers showing between 5,000 and 12,000 Allied soldiers died and 150,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy. WFXR News regrets the error.