June 6 marks the anniversary of the first day of the Invasion of Normandy, France during World War II. Often referred to as D-Day, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history and laid the foundations of the Allied Forces decisive victory.
But did you know that Fairfax County has a surprising connection to the infamous Normandy landings?
The Town of Herndon gets its name from Commander William Lewis Herndon, a Naval hero who died in 1857 with his doomed ship, the SS Central America - but not before ensuring the rescue of more than 150 women and children. His legacy has been honored with town names, monuments, and two Navy ships christened U.S.S. Herndon.
On that fateful June day in 1944, the second U.S.S Herndon (DD-638), a U.S. navy Gleaves-class destroyer, was selected to lead the Allied naval armada in the assault on France. The ship was later dubbed “The Lucky Herndon” as its sister ships gave her a 1 in 10 chance of surviving the Invasion. Miraculously, the lucky ship was never hit by enemy gunfire, despite being a massive target.
Back in 2019, members of Herndon High School’s band - "The Pride of Herndon” - were invited to represent the United States in Normandy for D-Day's 75th Anniversary. The band honored those who fought in the battle, and several band members wore the original dress blues from sailors on the U.S.S Herndon. They also brought with them an American flag that flew aboard the ship, crewmember photos and stories, and were joined by a very special guest: 94-year-old crewmember veteran James Clemont, of Minnesota.
The band marched through a small French town that was the first to be liberated, performed at the American Cemeteries in Brittany and Omaha Beach and performed in the D-Day Musical Salute to Liberation. Read more about the band's trip and watch a video presentation of the event here.
Read more about the “Lucky Herndon” destroyer here or visit the Herndon Depot Museum in the historic Town of Herndon to see artifacts from the ship, including the pilot’s wheel, the rudder indicator, and the ship’s bell. You can also read a great article about the connection that the ship and the town share in the Patch.
The Herndon Depot Museum is open every Sunday from 12pm – 3pm, March through December. Fun tip? Get there by bike on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and pick up a coffee or sandwich at one of the town’s local restaurants and shops.
Plus: D-Day Missions by Flak Bait
If you’re looking for additional ways to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day, be sure to stop over at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Visitors can explore the D-Day missions of the museum’s Martin B-26B-25-MA Marauder Flak Bait (which survived an incredible 206 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during WWII).
Do you have family stories connected to D-Day or a unique tie to Fairfax County? We'd love to hear it. Share your stories in the comments below or join the conversation on social media using #FXVA and @VisitFairfax.