- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2000

BEDFORD, Va. It's pretty rare for Lucille Hoback Boggess to go through an entire day without being reminded of her two brothers' final minutes on the bloodstained beaches of Normandy.

The Bedford, Va., native wasn't alone in her grief. Her small town of 3,200 sacrificed 21 young men on D-Day, more casualties per capita than any other U.S. community. She said Company A, which consisted of 35 Bedford boys, was chosen in part for its military expertise. But its sacrifice left a gaping hole in the small town's heart.

"It seems like you're never able to forget," said Mrs. Boggess, who was 15 when her brothers were killed in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. "It's almost a daily reminder. It has been that way since the 40th anniversary [in 1984]."

Mrs. Boggess and her Bedford brethren are working on a tribute to their fallen sons and the 9,758 Allied soldiers who died securing the precious stretch of land on the French coast.

Today, the town will reveal its partially completed tribute, the National D-Day Memorial. The project won't be finished until next June 6, but today its towering Overlord Arch and three of 10 planned sculptures will be unveiled. The site also features a large Victory Plaza surrounded by 13 flags representing the Allied nations that defeated the Axis powers. The memorial sits adjacent to the intersection of the Virginia 122 and U.S. 460 bypass in Bedford, itself rooted between Roanoke and Lynchburg, roughly 225 miles south of the District.

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and 700 D-Day veterans have been invited to attend.

Mrs. Boggess, 70, feels a pull in disparate directions when she thinks of that epic battle, the largest land, sea and air invasion in military history.

She mourns for Pvt. Bedford Hoback, 30, and Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoback, 24, with each step toward the memorial's completion.

Yet she endures the pain, knowing that the battle's lessons cannot be forgotten.

"I hope we don't lose sight of what it's all about," said Mrs. Boggess, who was born and raised in Bedford and has the soft Southern accent to prove it. "The important part is education. A lot of [kids] don't even know there was a D-Day."

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces stormed the Normandy coast of France in a pivotal assault against German forces. Under the direction of U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Operation Overlord punched through the Nazi opposition and broke Hitler's stranglehold over France.

"If D-Day hadn't been successful, we might live in a different world today," said Mrs. Boggess, who serves as both vice chairman of the Bedford County Board of Supervisors and treasurer of the D-Day Foundation.

The completed shrine will house an educational center and a theater, the latter thanks to Steven Spielberg, whose "Saving Private Ryan" evoked the horrors of D-Day like no film before it. The 126-seat venue, to be known as the Arnold M. Spielberg theater for his father and World War II veteran, will show films related to that battle and other European campaigns.

Among the permanent displays planned are tributes to the medics and chaplains who eased soldiers' suffering and a gallery of '40s-era cartoon art courtesy of the late Charles M. Schulz. The creator of "Peanuts," a World War II veteran himself, donated $1 million in 1997 to guarantee the display's completion.

Before war broke out in Europe, Bedford Hoback and Raymond Hoback joined the Virginia National Guard unit to earn extra spending money. At the time, many young men in the modest farming community saw the National Guard as a sound way to line their pockets.

When America entered the war in 1941, the brothers' unit left bucolic Bedford to begin training for the war effort. More than two years and countless drills later, the duo were eager to see battle, according to their steady stream of letters.

The brothers were as dissimilar as "fellow" buck Privates Abbott and Costello, but that only cemented their bond.

"The two were devoted to one another … because they were so different," she said.

Bedford, who was engaged at the time of his death, could be rather quick with a joke.

"He'd eat a sandwich in rank … he was always getting busted," she said. "Raymond was the serious one."

But Bedford knew the war was no laughing matter.

"He said he didn't think he'd come back. He realized the danger," she said.

Raymond Hoback, on the other hand, predicted the war would be "a piece of cake" for them. He even turned down an offer to be sent home when he suffered a serious nosebleed.

While the brothers trained for their first and last mission as part of the 116th Infantry Regiment, the remaining Hobacks huddled around the radio each night for updates from the war front.

"I knew when [radio newscaster] Walter Winchell came on, we weren't allowed to move about," she said.

On June 6, 1944, churches in Bedford remained open all day for extended prayer services.

The Hoback family feared the worst after news of the battle trickled in. But it wasn't until July when the official death confirmations reached Bedford. That day, the Hobacks stayed home to mourn. When their fellow churchgoers noticed the empty pews where the Hobacks usually sat, they gathered at the Hobacks' home to pay their condolences.

Mrs. Boggess spoke in measured tones when she recollected her brothers' contributions to the war effort. But when the conversation steered toward their last moments, her voice began to quaver, like a radio signal drifting out of range.

"They died together. I think that was the way they wanted it," she said flatly, preferring not to discuss some of the details she learned about their fates.

That didn't lessen her family's pain.

Her parents were "devastated," she recalled. "Dad would grieve out of sight of the children."

Her mother couldn't hide her tears.

"She never was quite herself [afterward]. It seemed like she was a lot more subdued," she said.

But her parents never complained about the family's sacrifice, "as hard as it was for them to give up their two sons," she said.

Bedford Hoback's body was recovered and laid to rest, but Raymond Hoback's remains were never found. The only reminder he left behind was a Bible his mother had given him for Christmas in 1938.

It was her mother's prized possession up until her death, she said. The tome is still in good shape. Its black leather binding may be weathered, but the inscription inside and print are still legible.

The Bible's improbable recovery inspired one of the memorial's statues. "Death on the Shore" features a bronzed soldier pitched onto the ground, his pack spilled open to reveal a Bible.

"It kind of catches your breath," she said of the statue.

The memorial's 44-foot, 6-inch granite arch overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains' twin Peaks of Otter. It is a vista that is as untarnished as the American dream the soldiers clutched to their hearts as their boats sloshed their way to shore.

Richard Burrow, president of the memorial foundation, said one reason the D-Day casualties were so high was that the follow-up company, Company D, arrived late.

"They left the company fully exposed on the beach for 25 minutes," he said, a delay that led to 91 killed, 64 wounded of Company A's 170-soldier complement.

Mr. Burrow's group has raised enough money to cover the memorial's preliminary $12 million cost. But $4 million of it has to be matched for a state contribution, and he fears the final price tag may be higher than anticipated.

"I expect cost overruns… . I can see us going a million or more over budget," said Mr. Burrow, who added the current work has cost about $7 million.

Bedford City Manager Craig Meadows said the memorial will be a welcome addition to a city known as "the Christmas Capital of Virginia" for its annual yuletide displays.

"It'll bring a lot of attention to the D-Day invasion," said Mr. Meadows. Folks may not get an appreciation for it in school. A lot of important events in history are getting lost."

"It's a fitting tribute to those who gave their lives for D-Day," he added. The city, which now has a population 6,400 strong, was the "obvious" choice for the memorial.

Mrs. Boggess said the memorial will serve a practical function for the war's survivors.

"I always thought it would be a place for veterans to come … a place to reflect," she said.

Not all of Mrs. Bogus surviving family members revisit D-Day as she does.

Mrs. Hoback Boggess' brother Cecil Hoback, 68, prefers not to focus on the family tragedy.

"He just doesn't remember anything about it. It may be too painful for him," she said. "I'm the one who lives the story."

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