June 6, 2019 marks the 75th 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.
This year, members of Herndon High School’s band - "The Pride of Herndon” - were invited to represent the United States in Normandy for this special anniversary. The band will honor those who fought in the battle, and several band members will wear the original dress blues from sailors on the U.S.S Herndon. They will also be taking an American flag that flew aboard the ship, carrying crewmember photos and stories with them, and will be joined by a very special guest: 94-year-old crewmember veteran James Clemont, of Minnesota.
The band will march through a small French town that was the first to be liberated, play at the American Cemeteries in Brittany and Omaha Beach and will perform in the D-Day Musical Salute to Liberation. Read more about the band's trip and what some of the high schoolers have to say about the honor on WTOP.
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 Anniversary Events
If you’re looking for additional ways to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, be sure to stop over at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. A special event will take place from 10am to 3pm at the Chantilly museum (free admission but expect a $15 parking fee).
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).
Other special activities during this special event include:
- concerts by the Air Force Strings
- stories of the Douglas C-47’s role at D-Day and stories of how the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion protected the beaches of Normandy
- photo opps at the Rosie the Riveter selfie station
- special D-Day themed docent tours
- screenings of the powerful D-Day 3D on the giant IMAX screen
- witness archival materials and photos of WWII in original color (and virtual reality!)
Learn more about the event here. Active military and veterans can receive a discount for IMAX showings (year-round).
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.