It survived D-Day, now Virginia historians help it battle time

RICHMOND, Va. -- The piece of paper laying on Wendy Cowan’s desk tips the scale at less than an ounce, but its significance weighs a ton. Words written by General Dwight D. Eisenhower before the D-Day invasion in June 1944. Nearly 200,000 of Ike’s Order of the Day were printed, but the National D-Day Memorial’s Angela Lynch said few surviving copies rank as rare as this one.

Bob Slaughter, of Roanoke, was a squad leader in Company “D” in the 116th Infantry in the famed 29th Division.

The 19-year-old asked dozens of his fellow soldiers to sign his copy.

Seventy-five of them did.

Slaughter and Company “D” stormed Normandy later that morning.

Bob Slaughter

Bob Slaughter

“They signed it within hours of landing on Omaha Beach. On June 6, just hours after signing the document, 11 soldiers would lose their lives,” Lynch said. “To have this many signatures of men who landed on D-Day is quite remarkable.”

Slaughter would carry the document through the end of the war. A precious reminder of those that were loved and lost. After his death in 2012 Slaughter’s family presented the document to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford.

“I think it is nationally significant,” Lynch said.

The paper survived battles and barrages, but time is its biggest enemy now.

National D-Day Memorial’s Angela Lynch

National D-Day Memorial’s Angela Lynch

It’s Richmond conservator Wendy Cowan’s mission to test, treat, and preserve the document. A tall order especially when nearly five feet of scotch tape holds it together.

“The first thought is how am I going to restore this,” Cowan said. “It really stays with you. It does have a lot of tears. When we remove the tape, it will probably be in six different pieces.”

And as for the 74-year-old signatures?

“It's burning through the paper because the ink is basically an acid and a metal,” she added.

The process isn’t fast.

"The paper survived battles and barrages, but time is its biggest enemy now."

"The paper survived battles and barrages, but time is its biggest enemy now."

“I won’t know how easy or difficult it will be until we really get into it,” Cowan said.

A proud veteran went to great lengths to protect his copy, now the stewards of Bob Slaughter’s Order of the Day said it's time to carry on his mission -- saving heavy history, that’s paper thin.

The document should take about three to four months to preserve and cost an estimated $3,000 - $4,000.

If you know of someone with an interesting story to tell email Greg McQuade.

Watch "I Have A Story" Fridays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. If you know of someone with an interesting story we should tell, email gmcquade@wtvr.com

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