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'Bedford was hit hard,' but military legacy remains strong in town torn apart by D-Day

'Bedford was hit hard,' but military legacy remains strong in town torn apart by D-Day

The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. During the Normandy invasion, Bedford — a town with about 3,200 residents — lost 20 soldiers, 19 of them from Company A. Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. During the Normandy invasion, Bedford — a town with about 3,200 residents — lost 20 soldiers, 19 of them from Company A. Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes

By Nikki Wentling

Stars and Stripes


BEDFORD, Va. — Unlike many of the units that hit the shores of Normandy on D-Day, Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, was a National Guard outfit of men from the same hometown.

Thirty-seven had grown up together in Bedford, Va., graduated high school together, worked together — and 19 of them died together.

One woman in Bedford was hired by the state to write monthly reports about Bedford, describing the feelings of the townspeople, their working conditions and church attendance during World War II. The letters, signed “Mrs. George P. Parker,” are now kept at the Bedford Museum.

“Reports continue to come in of Bedford boys killed in combat or died of wounds,” Parker wrote Aug. 15, 1944. “People are brave, but tensely anxious. Bedford has been hard hit.”

The per capita losses for Bedford on D-Day were among the highest in the country. In addition to the National D-Day Memorial established in Bedford in 2001, the significance of that history is apparent in the small community in other ways.

Half of the flags lining the downtown thoroughfare read, “Bedford Remembers,” and the other half show photos of the 19 soldiers — referred to reverently as the “Bedford Boys.”

 A plaque in Bedford, Va., honors the local servicemembers who were killed in the Normandy invasion of 1944. Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes
A plaque in Bedford, Va., honors the local servicemembers who were killed in the Normandy invasion of 1944. Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes

Many of the older buildings in town are adorned with plaques denoting their connection to the Bedford Boys, including the old Green’s Drug Store, the former Bedford High School — now vacant — and two factories where several men had worked. Liberty Station is now a popular local restaurant, but it used to be a working train station where Company A departed for the war.

“It’s part of the town’s DNA,” said Jennifer Thomson, genealogical librarian at the Bedford Museum.

So, too, is military service, Thomson said.

German forces nearly obliterated Company A and its soldiers on June 6, 1944. With only a handful of more than 200 members fit for duty, the unit was disbanded after the war and remained dormant for 10 years.


Killed in action

  • Capt. Taylor N. Fellers
  • Master Sgt. John L. Wilkes
  • Technical Sgt. Frank P. Draper Jr.
  • Technical Sgt. Ray O. Stevens
  • Staff Sgt. Leslie C. “Dickie” Abbott Jr.
  • Staff Sgt. Raymond S. Hoback
  • Staff Sgt. Earl Lloyd Parker
  • Staff Sgt. John B. Schenk
  • Staff Sgt. Elmere P. Wright
  • Sgt. Gordon “Henry” White Jr.
  • Sgt. Grant C. Yopp
  • Pfc. Wallace R. Carter
  • Pfc. John D. “JD” Clifton
  • Pfc. Nickolas N. Gillaspie
  • Pfc. Charles W. Fizer
  • Pfc. Weldon A. Rosazza
  • Pfc. Jack G. Powers
  • Pfc. John F. “Jack” Reynolds
  • Pvt. Bedford T. Hoback
  • Pvt. Clifton G. Lee

Survivors

  • First Lt. Elisha “Ray” Nance
  • Technical Sgt. Henry “Clyde” Powers
  • Technical Sgt. Roy O. Stevens
  • Staff Sgt. Robert Edwards Jr.
  • Staff Sgt. Robert L. Goode
  • Staff Sgt. Allen M. Huddleston
  • Staff Sgt. Robert El. “Tony” Marisco
  • Staff Sgt. Jack W. Mitchell
  • Staff Sgt. Earl R. Newcomb
  • Staff Sgt. Anthony M. Thurman
  • Sgt. Harold E. Wilkes
  • Pfc. James L. Lancaster
  • Pfc. Glenwood E. “Dickie” Overstreet
  • Pfc. James W. Watson
  • Technician Fourth Grade Cedric C. Broughman
  • Technician Fourth Grade George E. Crouch
  • Technician Fourth Grade James H. Crouch

“It was wiped out, decimated,” said Ken Parker, who’s writing a book of profiles about the Bedford Boys.

But in 1954, it was reactivated by Lt. Elisha “Ray” Nance, who participated in the invasion of Normandy and returned to Bedford, where he worked as a mail carrier. Several other former members of Company A joined him in the reactivated unit.

Decades later, Company A is still headquartered in Bedford. In the early 2000s, the unit deployed to Afghanistan — the National D-Day Memorial serving as the site of the sendoff.

“There certainly is a legacy in the community of serving, a very proud legacy,” said Joe Banner, special projects manager for the National D-Day Memorial. “It’s really retained a lot of its military history and lineage, and I think that’s very special.”

wentling.nikki@stripes.com


On June 6, the memorial will host “The Final Salute,” a ceremony that’s expected to be the biggest gathering at the memorial since former President George W. Bush dedicated it in 2001. About 70 World War II veterans are planning to attend, including 20 veterans who were involved in the D-Day invasion.


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By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 3, 2019