D+80: Virginians in the Normandy Invasion

The Virginia War Memorial’s upcoming exhibit, D+80: Virginians in the Normandy Invasion, opens on Thursday, June 6, 2024 – marking the 80th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II.

No single action, or single day, remains more recognized or iconic in American Military History than the 6th of June 1944.

Virginians played a pivotal role in the invasion, with the 29th Infantry “Blue and Gray” Division leading the first wave assault on to Omaha Beach. Virginian units suffered some of the heaviest losses on D-Day, such as the historic 116th Infantry Regiment, which sustained 341 casualties.


View the documentary:

Originally produced in 2003, “Virginians at War: D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy” was intended to give a broad overview of the events of D-Day and share the recollections of Virginians who were there. Our staff collected hundreds of hours of oral history interviews and had to condense them into small clips for the film.

This exhibition allows visitors to hear these personal and moving stories in greater detail.


Visitors to D+80: Virginians in the Normandy Invasion will share in the experiences of Virginians who answered the call in World War II, were shipped overseas, and trained, prepared for, and conducted the largest amphibious warfare campaign in history.

French cowbell taken off a cow in hedgerows by a Virginia soldier and a German helmet captured by US troops after they came ashore.

Historic photographs, artifacts, uniforms, and weaponry will help texture the D-Day timeline. Of particular note, this exhibit will incorporate several previously unseen, “rediscovered” eyewitness accounts provided to the Virginia War Memorial by World War II veterans more than twenty years ago.

Their memories, thoughts, and stories will provide captivating insight into an event that still moves us with feelings of awe, disbelief, and pride.

As was the case with our previous exhibits, this exhibition will not glorify war or make a political statement. Instead, it will focus on those who served, specifically, Virginians involved in the Normandy Invasion.

More than 20 years ago, the Virginia War Memorial concentrated collecting efforts on oral histories from World War II Virginia Veterans. Some of those interviews were used in our Virginians at War Documentary series – but only in snippets.

Over time, as technology changed, those histories sat on a shelf. Thanks to our recent efforts to catalogue, digitize, transcribe, and make fully accessible those histories, we will be “rediscovering” these eyewitness accounts.

“With this exhibition, we hope visitors can connect with these emotional stories that truly capture how soldiers were feeling before, during, and after the landing,” says Memorial Director Dr. Clay Mountcastle. Imagine the power of hearing about the invasion in the words, and the voices of those who were there.”

 

This “Utah Beach-South (La Madeleine)” map is a double-sided, highly detailed topographical map prepared by Commander Task Force 122 in April 1944. The map contains the first beach obstacle overprint, indicated by the red markings along the coast. Military cartographers added information from Allied aerial and ground reconnaissance to aid in the navigation of landing craft and to aid troops on the ground at Utah Beach.


The design of the exhibit is broken down into five sections:

  • Training
  • Operation Overlord (D-Day) Landing
  • Paratrooper and Glider Operations and Amphibious Landings
  • The Hedgerow Fights
  • The Battle of Saint-Lo to the Normandy Breakout