As I reflected on Kevin’s Memorial Day post (if you haven’t read it you should), it moved me to pause in remembrance on this, the 67th anniversary of that horrific but necessary sacrifice of American lives that the world knows as D-Day. We’ve all seen the movies and heard the stories of the courage and heroism which took place on that infamous stretch of French sand and rock. Certainly, we can never repay the debt owed to these, the finest of the greatest generation. Had those young men, in the prime of their lives not taken that beach, it is quite likely that Hitler would have prevailed and the remainder of the free world population, including Americans, may have become German serfs. However, they did not turn. Rather, they charged into withering fire, ultimately prevailing amid appalling losses, and changed the course of history. What better reason could there be to establish a nonprofit than to ensure that future generations never forget?
That is just what was done in 1996 in Bedford, Virginia, home to the greatest per-capita number of young servicemen to lose their lives on that June day in 1944. Of the thirty Bedford Boys in Company A National Guard’s 116 Infantry Regiment, 19 were killed by day’s end on Omaha Beach. Two more would be killed in the subsequent Normandy Campaign and yet two more from other in other companies in the 116th. All told, 23 young Bedford men would be buried in France - this from a community with a population of 2300. We, or at least I, cannot fathom such a loss. At the center of this effort was one of the Bedford Boys who lived – Bob Slaughter. It was his vision that brought life to the movement that would ultimately become The D-Day Foundation, which was built on an 88 acre parcel in Bedford.
Alas, though I’d like to spend some more time on discussing the historical aspects of D-Day and honoring the fallen, I need to move now into a discussion of the challenges faced by the 501c3 that is the D-Day Foundation. Being local to the Bedford area (Roanoke-ish) for the entire lifespan of the Memorial, from visioning to present, I have been exposed to newspaper articles and news stories ranging from the planning and construction to the dedication in 2001, to the more recent sad stories of financial woes and alleged misdoings by the president during the construction phase, Richard Burrow. As the first president of the Foundation, Burrow was the Board’s CEO – The hired gun to get the project off the ground. He had the experience and the connections. However, according to news reports, he made a few missteps that eventually came to light and caused a host of trouble. Specifically, he was indicted and tried (twice) for fraud. Neither trial resulted in conviction. I tried to attach a single, recognized theoretical relationship to the confederation of Board and CEO, but was unable to pin it down. On one hand, there appeared to be a leaning toward resource dependency in that the board was required to raise significant funds (the cost was $25 million) in a short timeframe. Chairman Bob Slaughter was/is the definition of a power broker based on his heroic first-person achievement of having stormed the beaches and lived. However, the formation had a strong propensity to agency theory as well, given the fact that Richard Burrow was hired, and took direction from a structured board setting. However, from all accounts I have seen, the Board and Mr. Burrow were on the same page with regard to mission thrust. The board was raising funds and Mr. Burrow was securing financing. It appeared that that everyone was pulling in the same direction. Then, less than a month after the Memorial dedication attended by President Bush, Burrow resigned, citing health reasons. It was soon discovered that the Foundation was in arrears to the tune of more than $5 million.
As opposed to something that can be easily explained by any one theory, what I see is a project which moved too fast. Granted, the visioning took place in 1994. However, is 7 years enough time to organize a foundation, raise the funds, secure the site, design and build a $25 million dollar memorial, and plan for a dedication which includes a speech by the President of the United States? Realistically, there were so many moving parts that something was bound to fall through the cracks, despite the best intentions. The Board hired Mr. Burrow to do a job. They obviously did not keep good enough tabs on the situation to avoid the resultant meltdown at the end, but then, whose fault is it? That’s a tough call and one that I won’t make. Heck, even a jury couldn’t decide – twice – given full benefit of all the information. I’ve listed below an excerpt from the Roanoke Times which sheds a little light on complexity of the issue. The dialogue is taken from the second trial of Richard Burrow in 2004.
Under questioning by defense attorney John Lichtenstein, Slaughter described the months leading up to the 2001 dedication as "utter chaos" as people connected with the foundation and monument construction worked overtime to get the project completed in time for the arrival of President Bush, foreign dignitaries and veterans.
We were caught up in a mess there at the end, trying to get ready for the dedication," Slaughter testified.
On cross-examination by prosecutor Tom Bondurant, however, Slaughter acknowledged that in the fall of 2000, Burrow relayed to the foundation board in a memo and in a self-evaluation that the foundation was debt-free.
The board voted to give Burrow a $5,000 raise, to $75,000, and a bonus of $10,000 based on that representation, Slaughter confirmed.
Slaughter acknowledged that he later learned that Burrow's representations were not accurate. But Slaughter also testified that board members knew projects were ongoing in the months leading up to the dedication and that the bills would keep coming in.
As Slaughter did at Burrow's first federal trial on fraud charges, he confirmed that he signed a letter to Bedford County Commonwealth's Attorney Randy Krantz in October 2001, after the foundation's debt of at least $5 million came to light in the wake of Burrow's resignation within a month of the dedication.
But Slaughter testified that he didn't know what was in the letter, and that he did not want a criminal investigation into the matter. The letter asked Krantz to look into the foundation's financial troubles.
It is fairly clear in the testimony that Burrow didn’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to his board. This, of course, is unacceptable. However, based on the full testimony, I’m not convinced that he knew the full scale of the financial woes at the time he made the statement. Certainly, what I think makes little difference in the outcome. The point here is that situational realities don’t always seem to fit nicely within scholarly theory. In this case, it looks to me like it was too much, too fast, and some good people got caught up in a bad situation.
Donations, the memorial’s lifeblood, are down. Total revenue, which includes ticket sales, have declined by nearly 50 percent from 2007 to 2010. And the number of visitors dropped below 60,000 per year for the first time last year. (http://www2.newsadvance.com/news/2011/jun/05/d-day-memorial-marks-decade-amid-challenges-ahead-ar-1085735/) I’ll take this opportunity to plead for assistance for this noble cause of remembrance. My daughter just turned 8 years old and I think she is ready to at least partially grasp the significance of sacrifice which is embodied in the national shrine that a few folks have worked so hard to erect in nearby Bedford. This summer, she’ll get to see - first-hand – symbols honoring the finest of the greatest. I’d encourage you to help ensure that future generations never forget. Donations can be made or tickets can be purchased at http://www.dday.org/.