Like eleven other Virginia communities, Bedford provided a company of soldiers (Company A) to the 29th Infantry Division when the National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment was activated on 3 February 1941.
Some 30 Bedford soldiers were still in that company on D-Day; several more from Bedford were in other D-Day companies, including one who, two years earlier, had been reassigned from the 116th Infantry to the First Infantry Division. Thus he had already landed in both Northern Africa and Sicily before coming ashore on D-Day at Omaha Beach with the Big Red One. Company A of the 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach as part of the First Division’s Task Force O.
The National Memorial of the D-Day invasion of Normandy is located in the small Virginia town of Bedford…. but why?
On June 6, 1944, Bedford’s population was approximately 3,200 and like all towns across the US, most of its sons were in uniform. Four years earlier about 100 “Bedford Boys” left home when their National Guard unit was called up.
On D-Day almost three dozen Bedford soldiers remained with the unit… and were assigned to the first wave assault on “Fortress Europe.”
Company commander Capt. Taylor N. Fellers lead 29 men off the landing craft. The Germans held their fire. The Americans organized themselves and rose to race to their objective some 200 yards distant. They were immediately cut down by three machine guns and two dozen snipers.
The slaughter was complete.
In the first few minutes of the landing… in the shallow waters along the coast of France… on a beach given the name “Omaha” by the Allies… 19 Bedford Boys died before the horrific, grinding fire of the Germany gun emplacements. Three more from Bedford would later give their lives at Normandy.
All along the beach below Vierville sur Mer, Bedford’s young men fought, died and struggled to survive their wounds.
Around them soldiers drowned, dragged to the bottom by the weight of their packs, wounded and exhausted men drowned as the tide rose… too weary and injured to save themselves. German fire raked the bodies and raked them again. Ear drums burst from the concussion of mortar rounds and defensive mines. Bodies bobbed in the surf… the remains of men whose total combat experience lasted but seconds.
No city in America had a higher one-day death toll in World War II than Bedford.
Nine of War Department’s “deepest regret” telegrams arrived at Bedford homes at the same time. Only the families, only the residents, could understand the impact of the seemingly unrelenting news of death. Twenty-one gone in a matter of days.
Nonetheless, the remnants of Company A and the next wave, and the next, advanced.
But that was only one battle… Bedford had already given 24 sons, and by the time the atomic bombs ended the war, more than 120 homes had gold star flags hanging in the windows.
On this day we should pause to honor the sacrifices of D-Day; and of Bedford Virginia, where every day is June 6th.
The Bedford Boys:
|Leslie C. Abott Jr.||Wallace R. Carter||John D. Clifton||Frank P. Draper Jr.||Capt. Taylor N. Fellers|
|Nick N. Gillaspie||Bedford T. Hoback||Raymond S. Hoback||Clifton G. Lee||Earl L. Parker|
|Jack G. Powers||Weldon A. Rosazza||John F. Reynolds||John B. Schenk||Ray O. Stevens|
|John L. Wilkes||Gordon H. White Jr.||Elmere P. Wright||Grant C. Yopp|
Bedford D-Day Memorial:
“The Bedford Boys” by Alex Kershaw