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A Virginia Beach firm unveils a memorial in France ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day

A memorial to early SEALs is under construction near Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Clark Nexsen
A memorial to early SEALs is under construction near Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

A monument honoring the beginning of the Navy SEAL community and designed by a Virginia Beach engineering firm will be unveiled in France ahead of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.

The memorial is being built near the town of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, France. It’s designed to honor the underwater demolition technicians, scouts and raiders who cleared the beaches ahead of the pivotal battle of World War II on June 6, 1944.

“They were some of the first ones in and they went in the cover of darkness and basically paved the way for the troops to come in,” said Erin Horton, a landscape architect with Clark Nexsen.

“There were such a small number of them, and they took heavy losses.”

Decades before any of the units were called SEALs, Naval Special Warfare can trace its history back to the opening years of World War II. The earliest units were formed at what was Amphibious Training Base Little Creek in 1942.

Ahead of D-Day, teams scouted beaches and cleared obstructions. Just over half of the team members were either killed or wounded during the invasion. The team at Omaha Beach was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, according to the Navy Seal Museum.

Clark Nexsen was approached by Captain Rick Woolard, chair of the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, who led the fundraising to build the memorial.

“It started as a small idea to have a small marker to educate visitors to their significant role in D-Day and then it grew into this monument park, as we now call it,” Horton said.

The design includes tablets in French and English depicting the operation. The centerpiece of the memorial is a sculpture of a hedgehog. The hulking steel obstruction was put in place to block landing craft from making their way to the beaches at Normandy.

The Virginia Beach architectural firm designed a similar monument to the SEALs on the beachfront here. They worked with a French team over the last 18 months to design a monument in time for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The monument overlooks Omaha beach where American troops came ashore. Members of the combined French and American team will be on hand for the dedication June 6 in France.

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

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