BEDFORD — Leigh Buckner said it has taken him 75 years to get to Bedford. However, the 75-year-old Roanoke native on Friday said it was certainly worth the wait.
“I can’t believe I have never been here before this week,” said Buckner, who now lives in Kenningston, Maryland. “This town is amazing. This is something I should have done years ago.”
About 12,000 visitors came to Bedford on Thursday to attend the 75th D-Day anniversary ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial. However, the town of Bedford and Bedford County retained many visitors in the area through the weekend.
Hundreds who attended Thursday’s event explored Bedford on Friday to learn more about the town and the history of the “Bedford Boys” — the 35 soldiers from Bedford that participated in the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy, 20 of whom were killed during the fighting on Omaha Beach.
“I never knew the history of the Bedford Boys and what this town sacrificed during the war,” Buckner’s wife, Sally-Beth, said. “We came to the memorial Thursday to celebrate the D-Day anniversary, but we are learning the real stories behind it today.”
Fred Janiszewski agreed. The Woolrich Township, New Jersey, resident said he pulled his three children out of school this week to attend Thursday’s event, but the “absolute charm” of Bedford was keeping his family in town through Sunday.
“I have always taught my kids how important it is to remember the anniversary of D-Day so we wouldn’t have missed Thursday for anything,” Janiszewski said. “However, I wanted to stay here so they could experience life in this town.
“Bedford is a slice of Americana,” he said. “This is what towns were like when people loved their country.”
Janiszewski’s 15-year-old son, Ryan, spent Thursday talking to the more than 100 World War II veterans that attended the D-Day anniversary.
Ryan said the lessons he learned from talking to the veterans were “way better” than any history lesson he learned in school.
“It was amazing,” Ryan said. “I actually got a feel of what it was actually like after talking with these men. I have loved my trip here.”
Ryan’s 13-year-old sister, Reese Janiszewski, was collecting autographs from WWII veterans during Thursday’s ceremony and was pleased to find that many of the veterans remained in Bedford on Friday so she could collect more.
“I got a lot of signatures,” Reese said Friday as she added another signature to her collection at the Company A Bedford Boys Tribute Center in Bedford. “I’ve actually lost count.”
Ken and Linda Parker, curators of the tribute center at the former Green’s Drug Store, said they have been “swamped” with visitors this week wanting to learn more about the Bedford Boys.
“It has been crazy,” Linda Parker said. “This anniversary has really brought the story of this town to light and people want to know more.”
The Buckners — who never knew of the Bedford Boys — learned their history and that of the town they left to fight in WWII at Thursday’s production of “Tuesday Mourning” at Gibson Memorial Auditorium at the Bedford Science and Technology Center.
“It was simply amazing,” Sally-Beth Buckner said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Both the Buckners and Janiszewskis said they would be planning future visits to Bedford.
“This town is charming,” Sally-Beth Buckner said. “I can’t wait to get back and I’ll be telling more people about this town.
“There are plenty of war memorials in the Washington, D.C., area where we live but here it is so much more personal,” she said with tears in her eyes. “Here it is real.”
“The people here are patriots,” he said. “They really embrace the history of this town and it just draws you in. This is also one of the most beautiful areas I’ve traveled to and I want to explore more of the area.”
Nicole Johnson, the director of tourism with the Bedford Area Welcome Center, said her office has been flooded with calls from people who want to visit Bedford County but did not come to the area this week because of the anticipated crowds.
“The word is out,” Johnson said. “I think the coverage surrounding the D-Day anniversary has been great. A lot of people will come this summer to visit the memorial but are also staying and seeing everything the area has to offer.”