Maryland's portion of U.S. 29 has been renamed the "29th Infantry Division Memorial Highway" to honor the only National Guardsmen to participate in the D-Day invasion.
"I feel elated over it," said Lowry Brooks, a 72-year-old D-Day veteran from Dundalk and supporter of the effort to rename the 30-mile stretch of highway in Maryland.
The name will be changed formally today at a ceremony to dedicate a wood-and-stone sign bearing the new name. The sign sits on a grassy median of U.S. 29 near the exit for U.S. 40 East in Ellicott City.
Scheduled to attend the event are Gov. William Donald Schaefer; Maj. Gen. James F. Frettard, the adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard; and several veterans of the Normandy invasion.
In the next few months, 20-inch signs will be added along Maryland's portion of the highway.
Last year, the Virginia legislature renamed its section of the highway to honor the 29th Infantry Division, which was primarily made up of Maryland and Virginia residents.
Established in 1917, the division fought in World War I and World War II. During D-Day, on June 6, 1944, it was the only National Guard unit to go ashore on Omaha Beach in France.
During 11 months of combat, the 29th Division suffered more than 19,000 casualties, the most of any Army division in the entire European campaign.
Renaming the highway is a fitting tribute to all who served in the unit, veterans said.
"They'll love it," said D-Day veteran James Blair Shaw, 76, of Clarksville. The new name will "honor those who died . . . and veterans who survived," he said.
The 29th Infantry Division Association, a veterans group made up of members from the unit, began working on the memorial fTC project two years ago.
Boyd Cook, a Hagerstown resident and former national commander of the group, came up with the idea while driving down U.S. 29 to a business meeting in North Carolina.
During the past two years, the veterans group has raised more than $17,000 for the sign, including $4,400 from the state Department of Public Works. The estimated cost of the sign is $20,000.
Mr. Cook, a 64-year-old Korean War veteran, said he wanted to create a bigger sign honoring the unit than the 6-by-30-inch signs along the highway in Virginia.
"We wanted to go with something more dominant," he said. "You've got to have something that's easily recognized."
The location for the 25-foot-long sign, which is surrounded by holly trees, day lilies and barberry shrubs, was chosen because it can easily accommodate the memorial and because the sign can be seen by travelers going both directions.
"Previous areas were too far to the north and not visible by both lanes of traffic," said landscape architect Margot Bartosh, who helped design the memorial.
Some veterans plan to use today's dedication ceremony as a send-off for their return to Normandy for the Allied commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The invasion included a quarter of a million troops, 3,000 planes and 7,000 ships.
Don McKee, national commander of the 29th Infantry Division Association, was a 21-year-old combat medic at the time. He plans to return to the amphibious assault site with 479 other members of the unit.
"It was certainly a big day," said the 71-year-old Silver Spring resident. "Hundreds of ships, hundreds of airplanes. We had our hands full. There were many hit and many killed."
Mr. Brooks of Dundalk, who plans to leave for Normandy on May 31, said he is looking forward to the trip, which will include reunions with former comrades and visits to battle sites.
For him, the event has never faded from memory.
"It is in my blood for 50 years," he said. "It happened yesterday. It didn't happen 50 years ago."