Memorial director breathes life into vision
by Kimberly Richards-Thomas '93, M.A. '95
On June 6, 1944, thousands of young men sacrificed their lives in the name of world freedom. For the rural town of Bedford, Virginia, this valiant charge brought on the largest per capita loss in the U.S.21 men in a population of 3,200. In recognition of this loss, Congress chose Bedford as the site for a national memorial to D-Day.
Founded in 1989 to raise donations for a memorial, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation saw few concrete results for nearly half a decade. The tide turned in 1996, however, when the board of directors realized they needed someone to energize the campaign. They hired current president Richard Burrow (civil engineering '69), and the memorial began to take shape.
"I had vast experience flatly getting things done," said Burrow. "I didn't just start projects and leaveI saw them through to completion. And I have a little grit within myself that makes me want to do that." In his first five months, Burrow raised $1.3 million. From that point on, every penny of donations could go toward construction. "Donors like to know where their money has gone, and I like to take them right out to the sight and show them," he said.
Burrow has implemented an innovative, piece-by-piece construction strategy, building as donations allow. "It takes a little bit of faith to work this way, but I've got that faith," he said. Today, visitors to the memorial-in-progress can stand in remembrance under the imposing OVERLORD arch (named for the D-Day operation's code name) or study the bronze sculptures that tell of sacrifice, valor, and fidelity.
Underlying Burrow's conviction is a strong belief in the good of this project. "I was just committed that creating the national memorial to D-Day was the right thing to do," Burrow said. "To me, America's entrance into the war was the most significant day in the 20th century." The formal dedication is scheduled for June 6, 2001.
Burrow also genuinely cares about the memorial's impact. Every detail, from the height of the arch to the style of the architecture, conveys meaning. In the sculpture, "Death on the Shore," a bible spills from the bag of a slain soldier. This sculpture was inspired by the family story of board member Lucille Boggess, who lost both her older brothers on D-Day. One brother was never found, but his bible was recovered from the shore. Burrow is dedicated to imparting these and other stories. In fact, he has insisted upon an expansive education center "so the monument will continue to have meaning for future generations."
Prior to joining the foundation, Burrow was executive director of Friends of Blue Ridge Parkway. He also worked as engineer for Explore Park in Roanoke, Va., and served the city of Roanoke in several engineering capacities for 10 years.
With Burrow's energy and resolve, the National D-Day Memorial has evolved into a moving, emotional tribute to those who died in service, a source of solace for those who survived, and a legacy for generations to come.