Lying midway between the Virginia cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg, the community of Bedford is like countless other small towns scattered across the Commonwealth – a charming Main Street, a clock atop the county court house and a mountain backdrop overlooking the historic settlement.
Sadly, this Virginia small town bears a tragic, yet honorable distinction of having made a greater sacrifice to liberate Europe from Nazi control than any other community in America: proportionally suffering the nation’s severest losses on D-Day.
With a German Swastika flying over Paris’ Eiffel Tower, the United States, Britain, Canada and a host of other European allies stormed the beaches of France’s northern shore on the morning of Tuesday, June 6, 1944. Codenamed “Operation Neptune,” the Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in the planet’s history and made the final defeat of Adolph Hitler possible.
Though the invasion was a decisive allied victory, it came at a heavy cost. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy, including over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
With a 1944 population of only 3,200 residents, Bedford, Virginia, lost 23 young men in this single campaign, giving it the highest proportional loss of any town in America for the D-Day invasion. Even with the incredibly high causality numbers witnessed throughout the Second World War, such a disproportionate ”population to KIA ratio” is unheard of anywhere else in the entire United States.
Bedford resident Lucille Boggess, who was just 14 during World War II remembered the longest day in her family’s history – “We were getting ready to go to church on Sunday, and the sheriff brought the first telegram. The second telegram was delivered by a cab driver.”
The telegrams brought word that both of her two brothers were killed on D-Day. Sadly, 21 similar telegrams would be sent to other parents in this community, providing word that their sons would never again set foot on Virginia soil.
Even to this day, town leaders say the loss of 23 young men from a single town of only 3,200 residents has had devastating effects.
“You have to think, this tragedy struck everyone. Every one of these boys was a classmate, a son, a nephew, a paperboy, a little freckle faced neighbor kid who played ball out in the yard – these were 23 young men who never got to raise a family, start a business or build something great – it’d be impossible to determine just what this community lost on that day,” said one town resident.
The reason for this disproportionate level of tragedy was due to the fact that among the first Americans to storm the Nazi held beaches were 34 Virginia National Guard soldiers, all from the town of Bedford. Known as the “Bedford Boys,” nineteen of them were killed during the first day of the invasion and four others were killed in the days following the initial invasion.
The Bedford Boys included two sets of brothers: twins Roy and Ray Stevens, with Ray killed during the landing while Roy survived, and Bedford and Raymond Hoback, both killed.
On June 6, 2001, the 50-acre National D-Day Memorial opened in the community of Bedford, Virginia, with over 15,000 people in attendance.
“In Tribute to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of Allied Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944″ the Western Virginia monument’s scope is international, recognizing the sacrices made not only by members of the Virginia community, but also to all allied forces from around the globe who took part in the landings.
In addition to being home to the National D-Day Memorial, the community’s losses helped inspire the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. The movie’s director, Steven Spielberg, helped fund the memorial, including funding for the creation of the Arnold M. Spielberg Theater, in honor of his father, a World War II veteran.
Click LIKE to share this article with your friends on Facebook!