Saturday, June 6, 2009

D-Day sacrifice remembered ... June 6, 1944

~Remembering their valor, fidelity, and sacrifice~

Today is D-Day. How many will continue to remember this major milestone battle of World War II that played such a big part in the freedom we enjoy? How many will keep the observance alive even as the Greatest Generation dies off and the memories fade?

From the Washington Times:
It's "A Gathering of the Greatest Generation" - though this year only a small group of that era's aging heroes will commemorate the invasion of France at Normandy 65 years ago.

On Saturday afternoon, veterans will attend a National World War II Museum ceremony in New Orleans recognizing soldiers, sailors and airmen who made that invasion a turning point for Allied forces. However, organizers acknowledge few members of an already dwindling population are hardy enough to make the trip.

"We won't have a veteran from each state, unfortunately," said William Detweiler, who is in charge of the event. "They're all in their 80s and 90s now, and getting around is just too hard for many of them."
Nowhere did that touch home more than in Bedford, Virginia, where the National D-Day Memorial is located as a reminder of a small town that sacrificed so much for America:
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 thirty 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. By day's end, nineteen of the company's Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford's population in 1944 was about 3,200.

Proportionally this community suffered the nation's severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial here.
Sadly, the last of the surviving "Bedford Boys" passed away April 19, 2009, at the age of 94. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported:
The storied journey of the “Bedford Boys” came to an end Sunday with the death of the group’s last surviving member, Ray Nance.

Nance, 94, was among the 35 young men from Bedford who stormed Normandy’s Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

In a 2007 interview, Nance recalled the day 65 years ago when he was wounded by shrapnel in his hand and foot. He took cover from machine gun fire in a pool of floating bodies. He watched friends die, he lay on the beach for hours and was ultimately rescued by a sergeant from Roanoke.

Of those 35 Bedford Boys to land on the Nazi-held beaches at the start of the D-Day invasion, 19 died in the first wave and two shortly after. The loss of 21 soldiers in Bedford’s community of 3,200 gave Bedford the highest proportional losses for D-Day, and led to the drive to build the National D-Day Memorial there.
“Every time I heard him talk about D-Day, he often said he never understood why he left and all the other men died,” [Bedford resident Lucille] Boggess said. “I think he was always a leader. All the men looked up to him.”
It was said after D-Day that we would never forget. Will future generations remember that promise?

Cross-posted at and SWAC Girl

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