BEDFORD, Va. — In a stirring tribute to the D-day sacrifices of American soldiers and their allies, the U.S. military's top officer said Sunday that World War II's defining moment should remind all that returning warriors need not "suffer in quiet desperation."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke in the peaceful setting of this small town, which bore the heaviest share of American losses in the June 6, 1944, landings on the beaches of Normandy. The National D-day Memorial was established here in 2001 as a tribute to those who died in the invasion of German-occupied Europe.
Mullen drew a parallel with the needs and aspirations of the men and women returning from today's battlefields, many with the invisible psychological wounds of war.
"They, too, have seen and done things we cannot know," he said. "Their lives, too, are forever changed. And just as previous generations of heroes did, they must likewise adjust themselves to peace."
Over much of his nearly three years as Joint Chiefs chairman, Mullen has repeatedly implored the government, as well as communities and volunteer organizations, to help care for returning veterans, as well as families of the fallen. He has called it an obligation that will face the nation for decades after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to a close.
The memorial tells the D-day tale with details steeped in symbolism, including the height of the triumphal arch inscribed "Overlord," the code name for the operation. The arch is 44 feet, 6 inches high to commemorate the year and month of the landings. Concrete was poured on the pedestrian walkway to resemble waves on the beaches of Normandy.
On D-day — 2½ years after Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II — allied forces charged the shores of five beaches on France's northern coast. They faced entrenched German forces, land mines, machine guns and heavy artillery.
About 215,000 allied soldiers, and roughly as many Germans, were killed or wounded on D-day and in the ensuing three months before the allies took control at Normandy, opening a path toward Paris that eventually took them to Germany and victory over the Nazis.
At D-day ceremonies last year at Normandy, President Barack Obama honored the dead and applauded what he called the "sheer improbability" of the allies' success in storming the beaches of Normandy, scaling its cliffs and routing the German defenders.
Congress chose Bedford as the D-day memorial's site because it is said to have suffered the highest number of deaths on D-day of any American community, in proportion to its population, which was just 3,200 at the time. Nineteen Bedford natives in Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment were killed on D-day.