By Courtney Cutright
The National D-Day Memorial is running out of cash.
The problem is so dire that the World War II memorial honoring the largest land, air and sea operation in military history is at risk of closing - and the news comes just days before a major celebration planned for D-Day's 65th anniversary, June 6.
Since the memorial opened in 2001, the foundation has been besieged by problems: millions of dollars in debts, Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a high-profile alleged fraud case in federal court.
Bedford was chosen as the site for the D-Day Memorial because the community suffered the highest per-capita loss in the first wave of combat during the mission in 1944. Nineteen of 32 servicemen who joined the Virginia National Guard in Bedford died.
All debts for the memorial were paid off in late 2006. The problems the foundation faces today are new.
"We're in a cash-poor state, as many nonprofits are," said the memorial foundation's president, William McIntosh.
The foundation has $300,000 in unrestricted cash and maintains an endowment of $400,000, he said. It is unclear how long the memorial can operate on those funds. But before closing it, the foundation's board would enact cost-saving measures such as furloughs, McIntosh said.
The foundation operates on a $2.2 million annual budget. About $600,000 - or 27 percent- is generated by people who visit the memorial, in the form of ticket sales, tours and gift-shop purchases. The rest comes from contributions, and that revenue flow has slowed with the economy.
A significant infusion of cash is needed to sustain the operation, McIntosh said. For example, he said, the memorial could operate on the interest from an endowment of $32 million, but that "still would not be enough to do any more than we are doing now," he said.
Something has to be done, he said, because the current model is not sustainable. "The board of the foundation is not supposed to take on additional debt or any debt beyond the obvious day-to-day operations of the memorial," McIntosh said.
Another possible fix for the memorial would be for an umbrella agency to take over operations. The ideal fit, McIntosh said, is the National Park Service, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Bedford County Administrator Kathleen Guzi said the county would be glad to have the Park Service step in, because taking over the memorial isn't something that interests the county. "I don't think it would make sense for us to run a national monument," she said.
But the memorial is not something the county or Bedford city would want to lose altogether, especially after the two localities invested $2.4 million in a welcome center nearby.
"Our office has had preliminary conversations with the folks at the Memorial about their current situation, and we are actively working with them to explore the potential options," Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., wrote in an e-mail.
Said McIntosh: "I think it should become a pendant to the National World War II Memorial. If D-Day is the climactic battle of the war and it receives, relatively speaking, scant attention at the World War II Memorial, it might be appropriate to have someplace to have a closer look at this one fight."