ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — John Robert Slaughter, a D-Day veteran and one of the driving forces behind the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, has died. He was 87.
Slaughter died Tuesday at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said.
“That D-Day memorial shows without question what one man with resolve can do,” Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a political strategist and Roanoke businessman, told The Roanoke Times (http://bit.ly/K8k39U). “He thought it up. He lobbied for it. He raised money. He put his heart and soul into it.”
About 2,500 Allied soldiers died on June 6, 1944, in what has become known as the largest land, air and sea operation in military history. Slaughter was 19 and a sergeant and squad leader in Company D, 116th Infantry, 29th Division when he waded ashore as part of the third wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach. Memories of that day and of the months of fierce combat that followed compelled Slaughter decades later to fight for and help win a national memorial for the D-Day veterans in Bedford.
During the D-Day invasion, 19 Bedford-area soldiers died, one of the worst per capita death tolls of any American community during the invasion.
“His whole focus was honoring the guys who didn’t come back,” Saunders said.
In 1987, Slaughter and other Roanoke-area veterans formed a committee to raise interest in building a memorial, but city officials were not receptive. His notoriety grew, and Slaughter appeared with President Bill Clinton at a 50th anniversary observance on Omaha Beach. It was that appearance that memorial officials say helped bring donations from director Steven Spielberg and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, who gave $1 million.
“I don’t like to get my name in the paper,” Slaughter told The Roanoke Times in 1999. “I don’t like to have my picture in the paper. Most of the time it’s pretty ugly. But I know what it takes to get the job done.”
President George W. Bush helped dedicate the memorial on June 6, 2001.
Slaughter’s book “Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter” was published in 2007.
National D-Day Memorial Foundation president Robin Reed, the memorial president, described Slaughter as a “soldier’s soldier,” a man devoted to his family, community and fellow veterans.
“It’s a sad day for the foundation, a sad day for us personally and individually,” Reed said.
Reed said the June 6 observation of D-Day’s 68th anniversary will celebrate Slaughter’s contributions.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)