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.
Her parents never got over it.
“Several years after that, my mother had a stroke. And I can remember that we’d be sitting around in the living room at night, and she’d be sitting on the sofa and she’d say, ‘Where are my boys?’ I want to cry telling you that,” Boggess said.
Sadly, 21 similar telegrams would be sent to other parents in this community, providing word that their sons would never again set foot on American 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.
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.
“My parents and most all of us went to see them off,” Boggess said. “We were just kind of saying goodbye but, you know, ‘We’ll see you soon.’ And it wasn’t like they weren’t coming back.”
Yet on June 6, 1944, these boys from Bedford, Virginia, with 150,000 other young men, boarded landing craft for the beaches of France for the D-Day invasion. By the end of that one day, nearly 4,500 allied soldiers lost their lives—nineteen of those killed were from Bedford. “The Longest Day” still casts a shadow over this town, seven decades later.
Those in company who survived and returned also suffered.
“I try not to think of it anymore,” Allen Huddleston said.
Huddleston saw active duty in Normandy, but because of an ankle injury during training, he missed the D-Day invasion.
“Well, I just think I was lucky,” he said.
Another Bedford boy who made it home was Sgt. Roy Stevens. Stevens and his twin brother, Ray, both landed on the beaches, but only one survived.
Roy’s daughter, Kathy, said for most of her life, her father, who died in 2007, would never talk about that day. He last saw his brother when they set out for Normandy on different boats.
“Ray, wanted to shake hands with him, and Pop wouldn’t because he said, ‘I’m going to see you when we get to Normandy,’ and ‘course, Ray didn’t make it, he was one of the first ones out,” Stevens said.
It wasn’t until the creation of the national D-Day memorial in Bedford that Roy Stevens finally was able to revisit the invasion.
“That really got him open because he was able to talk to other survivors, other vets,” Stevens said.
Several years ago (2014), the memorial dedicated a new sculpture to honor the “Bedford Boys,” and to recognize a town that, like so many others in our nation, lost their sons and brothers on one day.
“I’ve often thought, ‘Well, if all these men had come back, how would this community be different and what contribution would they have made?’ And I just felt like it would’ve been a better place, and I think that we still sort of cry for them and miss them,” Boggess said.
“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 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.
So much sacrifice—a debt we can never repay or forget.
Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world.
—President George W. Bush in his dedication speech, June 6, 2001