From the Office of Historic Alexandria
The Alexandria-Caen Sister City Committee’s D-Day commemorations date back to 2010. Since then, the city council has passed a resolution commemorating the invasion of Normandy every year. During normal times, the Sister City Committee hosted a lecture at The Lyceum, Alexandria’s History Museum, on the Thursday before and then an outdoor program in Market Square on the Saturday closest to D-Day itself, June 6.
The Saturday event usually includes swing music and exhibition dancers, reenactors with static displays, community organizations, and a performance by either the U.S. Army Fife and Drum Corps or the Alexandria Pipes and Drums. The Saturday event has also drawn support from Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts, and other groups in the past.
The first nine years of commemorations included a brief formal ceremony, kicked off by the Alexandria Town Crier, with the Mayor and city council members reading short first-person accounts of D-Day. It concluded with a short capstone address by Alexandria D-Day veteran Barney Nolan in 2017 (U.S. Army Air Force) and Linc Harner in 2019 (U.S. Army). In 2016, the scheduled speaker, U.S. Army Air Force veteran Jerry Wolff, could not attend in person but sent remarks to be read aloud.
In 2018, rather than a D-Day veteran, a representative of the 29th U.S. Infantry Division, a D-Day unit, spoke. In addition to representatives of the 29th Division and area veterans, special guests have included a deputy mayor of Caen, Caen alumni of our student exchange program, and the French Naval Attaché. For the 2019 event saluting the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the committee estimated that over 3500 people attended the Saturday event.
This year, the Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee will present its program virtually. For the first time, two lectures will be available to Alexandria residents.
On Thursday, June 3, the committee will host a lecture by retired U.S. Army historian Dr. Kim Bernard Holien, called “Secrets of D-Day,” about little-known factors that helped the Allies win the battle in Normandy. Dr. Holien was a professional historian with the U.S. Army for 34 years, receiving commendations from the late John Marsh, Secretary of the Army, and President Ronald Reagan. He is the recipient of the 2008 Joseph L. Harsh History Award from the Northern Virginia Association of Historians and the 2016 T. Michael Miller Alexandria History Award from the Alexandria Historical Society.
Dr. Holien’s father served as an Army medical officer during the Second World War. He cared for many D-Day wounded on their return to England, later serving on President Dwight Eisenhower’s Medical Staff. Dr. Holien is a returning guest, having participated in a panel discussion on D-Day for the 75th anniversary in 2019.
Mayor Wilson is scheduled to join the program to read this year’s proclamation. With the help of The Zebra, the Alexandria-Caen Sister Cities Committee plan to play a recorded message from another Alexandria D-Day veteran, Bob Fischman.
On Friday, June 4, the Committee will host a lecture live from Paris by American journalist and photographer Linda Hervieux about her book Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes. Hervieux will discuss the story of D-Day’s only African American combat soldiers, who were effectively written out of the history of the Normandy invasion. Tom Brokaw called Forgotten “utterly compelling,” and Douglas Brinkley said “all Americans should read” this battalion’s journey through segregated Jim Crow America to unexpected freedom in Britain and France.
Hervieux has lectured extensively on the African Americans of D-Day and World War II at Harvard, Princeton, Berkeley, the Imperial War Museum in London, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Ms. Hervieux was suggested to the Committee as a speaker by a member of the Alexandria public, who read about our committee activities through Alexandria’s ENews releases.
Readers can find links to register for the lectures at www.facebook.com/Alexandria-Caen-Sister-Cities-426238157480858.