- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

BEDFORD, Va. (AP) — For years, World War II was a sore subject that many families in this small farming community avoided.
"We lost so many men," said Boyd Wilson, 79, who joined Virginias 116th National Guard before it was sent to war. "It was just painful."
The war hit Bedford harder than perhaps any other small town in America, taking 19 of its sons, fathers and brothers in the opening moments of the Allied invasion of Normandy. Within a week, 23 of Bedfords 35 soldiers were dead. It was the highest per capita loss for any U.S. community.
Only recently have residents begun talking about D-Day, mostly in anticipation of the National D-Day Memorial being dedicated here on June 6, the 57th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. The memorial will officially open the day after the dedication.
"A lot of people dont know what happened here," said Carol Burnett, 58, owner of the Old Liberty Antique Mall, a downtown antique shop cluttered with lamps, dolls and other vintage knickknacks.
For the past year, Miss Burnett has kept a collection of old World War II uniforms and pictures in her front window. "People are now coming by, some old veterans, and they tell us their story."
In the 1940s, Bedford was a farming town of about 3,200 people. The generation of young men who would go to war attended the same churches and schools.
There were few jobs, so many joined the 116th, which paid about $35 every two months.
Mr. Wilson said they would train together every month at the county courthouse.
"It was like being on a ball team," he said.
In 1941, the Guard unit was shipped off to England.
It was the only National Guard unit to be on the first boats of the Normandy invasion. Mr. Wilson, who was then fighting with another Army unit that arrived at Omaha Beach after the 116th, said he kept looking for his friends, but couldnt find anyone.
"Later, they told me that the 116th had been wiped out," he said.
In Bedford, Mike E. Reynolds was working in the furniture store he bought before the war. Mr. Reynolds said he first heard about D-Day when he went next door to the drugstore for a Coke.
The telegraph machine inside had been especially active that day, printing letters to families of the 116th.
"Word passed quickly about what happened," said Mr. Reynolds, 88. Families received letters during the next several weeks as more bodies were identified on the Normandy beach.
Lucille H. Boggess, 71, was getting ready for church when the sheriff came by with the letter that her older brother was killed in action. The following day, the town cabdriver came by with another letter, saying that another brother died.
"By then, my parents were just so overcome with grief," Mrs. Boggess said. "It was almost like my mom had somehow died."
It was a pain that many people in Bedford kept to themselves, said Mayor Mike Shelton, who began lobbying for the monument in 1994 after talking with Mrs. Boggess.
"A few years ago you could walk down the street and only about one out of five people could describe with any sense of knowledge about what happened here in 1944," Mr. Shelton said. "Frankly, its been good for the community to talk about it."
The $13.6 million monument, paid for entirely by donations, sits on 88 acres of pastureland in Bedford, about 25 miles east of Roanoke.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide