The installation of a memorial bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Bedford, Va., next to Western Allied leaders in World War II has ignited a firestorm of controversy and threatened to tear apart the small town 200 miles south of the nation's capital.
Opponents of the bronze sculpture say it has no right to be placed in the National D-Day Memorial next to the busts of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill because Stalin's murderous rule led to the deaths of at least 20 million people, surpassing even the number of murders under Hitler's bloody reign.
The Bedford board of supervisors voted unanimously late last month to ask the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to lose the bust. A group called the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has an electronic petition calling on the memorial overseers to remove the bust. Several newspaper editorials have criticized the bust.
But the foundation isn't backing down, saying that Stalin, love him or hate him, is a part of the war's history, and his actions should be remembered.
"We certainly can understand the concern recently expressed by the Bedford County Board of Supervisors on behalf of their constituents and their interests," Robin Reed, president of the foundation said in a written statement.
"However, as a lifelong educator, I believe the foundation has a responsibility to serve as a catalyst for serious discourse regarding key historical figures and their actions as they relate to the D-Day story and World War II in general," she continued. "To do otherwise, is a serious disservice to those individuals that lived and died during those historical events."
The foundation could not be reached for further comment.
Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., wrote a letter to the chairman of the foundation last month, urging him to remove the bust.
"The long term viability of the Memorial will depend on its ability to maintain the support of the community of veterans who worked so hard to bring it into existence," Perriello said. "On issues of veteran's affairs, I take my marching orders from those who have served. I strongly encourage the leadership of the foundation to do the same."
The Joint Baltic American National Committee, a lobbying group, said the bust not only elevates Stalin but "does a great disservice to the memories" of the soldiers who died at Normandy.
"It is embarrassing to have to explain to our friends and colleagues overseas why Stalin's bust has suddenly appeared in our backyard when we have been applauding the removal of Stalinist icons elsewhere," the committee said.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has collected more than 3,500 signatures on its petition.
"Statues of Stalin have been torn down all over Europe. Even in the Soviet Union," Lee Edwards, chairman of the group, said in a written statement. "The Stalin bust in Bedord, Va., should be removed immediately."
The petition also calls on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to make the acceptance of the D-Day Memorial as a national park dependent on the removal of the bust.
Reportedly facing serious financial problems, the foundation is trying to get the National Park Service to take over the site.
David Barna, a spokesman for the National Park Service, said the controversy wouldn't be a factor in the agency's decision.
"If the memorial comes our way, we would have to interpret what it meant to America," he told FoxNews.com.
Bedford was chosen as the site for the memorial because of the huge sacrifice it made in the war. The city lost 21 of its men during the climatic D-Day battle on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, the most men per capita of any community in the U.S. during World War II, according to the memorial.
Stalin, who had teamed up with the West after Hitler betrayed him, didn't send one Russian soldier to that battle.