- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

ROANOKE, VA. (AP) - When World War II broke out, the “Bedford Boys” left home to serve. Many of them didn’t come home _ so many that the community had among the greatest losses per capita on D-Day.

Now the last survivor has died.

Elisha Ray Nance died Sunday in Bedford, a spokesman at Tharp Funeral Home and Crematory said Monday. He was 94.

Nance was among 38 National Guardsmen from the close-knit community of Bedford who were in Company A of the 116th Infantry, a spokeswoman at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation said. On June 6, 1944, 19 were killed when they landed on Omaha Beach at the start of the D-Day invasion. Two more died later.

The great loss from a town of 3,200 and its surrounding area led Bedford’s selection as the site of the D-Day Memorial.

Nance went home when he left the Army in 1944 and became a postal carrier, said Shannon Brooks, a spokeswoman for the D-Day foundation who works in the archives.

Staying in Bedford took courage, Brooks said, because his customers “were the same people whose sons and brothers and husbands he led into action, many of whom did not come home.”

“I believe he felt he owed it to those people to stay, to keep their story alive for them,” she said.

The area is steeped in history.

“A lot of families in this area have been here since the Revolutionary War,” Brooks said. “Everyone’s roots are tied very closely here with their neighbors’.”

Serving in the war meant more than a military engagement to the “Bedford Boys,” she said.

“This is personal. This is family,” Brooks said. “When their comrades fall, it’s not just some guy who was added to the unit three weeks ago.”

To honor his fallen brethren, Nance reorganized Company A of the Virginia National Guard in Bedford and was its first commander after World War II.

Nance is survived by his wife, Alpha; two daughters; a son; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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