No Small Sacrifice

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World War II deeply affected the United States and its people, creating broken families with loved ones who fought and died in the war and an economy that seemed to be lifted up out of the Depression. Small American towns such as Bedford, Virginia, were no exception, and they too suffered heavy blows from the war, especially since their population was small to begin with and their economy was very weak.

To have a better understanding of how Bedford, Virginia (a town with a population of roughly 3000) was affected by World War II, the story of this town's sacrifice will be told through the stories of the Bedford soldiers (a.k.a. the Bedford Boys) who were shipped off and landed on Omaha Beach.




The Numbers: Who Lived and Who Died

Bedford Boys killed in Normandy Campaign:
22 Total: Leslie Abbott, Wallace Carter, John Clifton, John Dean, Frank Draper Jr., Taylor Fellers, Charles Fizer, Nicholas Gillaspie, Bedford Hoback, Raymond Hoback, Clifton Lee, Earl Parker, Joseph Parker, Jack Powers, Weldon Rosazza, John Reynolds, John Schenk, Ray Stevens, Gordon White, John Wilkes, Elmere Wright, Grant Yopp

Bedford Boys who Survived D-Day
6 Total: Robert Goode, James Lancaster, Robert (Tony) Marsico, Elisha (Ray) Nance, Glenwood (Dickie) Overstreet, Anthony Thurman

Bedford Boys missed landing on D-Day but landed days later:
5 Total: Robert Edwards, Charles Fizer, Clyde Powers, Roy Stevens, Harold Wilkes




Bedford

Bedford itself is a tight-knit community of only several thousand people, and was settled by English ancestors in the 1700s. It remained a rural farming area well into the 1900s, and was originally named after the Colonial victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown.


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Their Reason for Joining

Most of the soldiers who came from this quaint little town were merely boys barely over the age of 20, while some were still in their teens. To farm boys such as Ray and Roy Stevens (twin brothers), joining the National Guard meant being able to feed their families for another day. The twins joined the National Guard when they were 18 in 1938 along with their friends and family. At the time, their National Guard outfit was compared more to a social club than a military unit, none of the boys ever suspecting that they would spearhead America's most critical assault at Omaha Beach. For the boys, joining the Guard was a way of also impressing the pretty girls of Bedford, and the boys could not help but enjoy the attention they received when they paraded through the streets in their new uniforms. Every marching practice earned the soldiers a dollar; during the summer, soldiers were paid to attend two-week training sessions in Manassas, New York, or even Virginia Beach.




Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and other Domestic Problems

When Wall Street crashed in 1929, many families could no longer rely on their farming to bring in income. Large families, such as the Nance's, depended on their children to take up day-jobs to support the family, the easiest job being to enlist in the Guard. Ray and Roy Stevens both worked in grocery stores and on production lines; others, such as 18-year-old Raymond Hoback (who later would join the Guard to be with his older brother, Bedford), left school early to work as a laborer building roads for President Roosevelt's New Deal program. The women of Bedford began to work in mills, usually spending long hours over a loom earning very little for their hard effort. One of the only positive outcomes of World War II that came for this small town was the raise in wages for women. In Bedford, production plants were shifting towards military production. Examples include Rubatex, which produced rubber gas masks, and Hampton Looms, which provided woolen uniforms for soldiers. Elva Newcomb, wife of Earl Newcomb (Company A's mess sergeant from Bedford), found an increase in her wages after Hampton Looms made a deal with the Textile Workers Union.

While Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs did help lift the economy of small towns out of its slump, programs such as rationing caused widespread complaint and dissatisfaction. The two items being rationed that provoked uproar was the rationing of sugar and oil. Sugar was used mainly to preserve fruits to sell at markets and for a family's own sustenance, and gas was essential in transporting goods and people around the far-flung community.




The Bedford Boys: How War affected their Lives and the Ones They Left Behind


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- Ray and Roy Stevens:
Losing a friend in war is difficult, but one cannot begin to fathom the pain one feels when their twin dies in war while the other survives. 24-year-old Sergeant Roy Nance was certain that he would be the one to die; instead, he made it out alive while his twin Ray Nance died on Omaha Beach in the first few minutes of the war. The two boys grew up in a family of fourteen on a farm in Bedford, and shared almost everything with each other. While enlisted, they were separated for the first time when they faced their greatest fears:
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they would not land on Omaha Beach in the same boat. Of the seven boats to land on Dog Beach, Ray was in boat number two, and Roy was in boat number five. After being dropped off on the Beach where he almost drowned, Roy spent four days looking for his twin. He learned of Ray's death when he came upon a tombstone with his brother's dog tags on it, surrounded by 18 more makeshift tombstones with the tags of the other Bedford Boys.¹

The Stevens family was devastated upon hearing the loss of Ray Stevens. There was also a mistake that sent the Stevens into panic: a telegram had been sent back home stating that Roy Stevens was missing in action as of June 6th, but Roy had sent a letter to his family from England postmarked after June 6th. Ultimately, Roy was the one who was sent home, where he greeted his family alone. He found drinking and foul language calmed his nerves, but they also sparked anger and rage, fueled towards the death of his friends.
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  • "I'll never forget that morning. It was the 6th day of June. I said farewell to brother. Didn't think it would be so soon. I had prayed for our future. That wonderful place called home, but a sinner's prayer wasn't answered. Now I would have to go there alone...Oh brother, I think of you all through this sleepless night. Dear Lord, he took you from me and I can't believe it was right. This world is so unfriendly. To kill now is a sin. To walk that long narrow road. It can't be done without him. Dear Mother, I know your worries. This is an awful fight. To lose my only twin brother and suffer the rest of my life. Now, fellas, take my warning. Believe it from start to end. If you ever have a twin brother, don't go to battle with him." - Roy Stevens


- Earl Parker:
An example of families that were split apart due to the war can be seen here, as that is exactly what happened to the Parker family. Before he left for the war, the 26-year-old would-be Sergeant married 19-year-old Viola Shrader. In order to see her husband one last time, Viola and a few other women (including Bettie Wilkes and other wives and fiancees) banded together and took a train to see the soldiers at the camp. Parker's wife learned she was pregnant and was particularly anxious to see her husband again.
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While aboard the Empire Javelin crossing the English Channel towards Omaha Beach, Parker "pulled out a picture of his sixteen-month-old daughter, Danny", and told the Stevens twins "if [he] could just see her once... [he] wouldn't mind dying."²

For a while after D-Day, the Parker family back home in Bedford had no solid information on Earl's whereabouts, until he was proclaimed dead.. His mother received a telegram June 17th informing her that he was missing; his wife Viola received a package of letters she recently sent to him. Danny, his daughter, never got to meet her father.
[it was later discovered that Earl was hit by a mortar shell, his body having been washed into the English Channel and never found)

(← to the left: wall of the missing; third name from the bottom: Earl Parker)



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Raymond and Bedford Hoback: The Hoback family was the only family to suffer the loss of both sons, Raymond and Bedford. The family first received news of Bedford, a telegram informing them that the older son was killed in the war on D-Day. They also had to inform Bedford's fiancee, Elaine Coffey, that she would not be marrying their son.
News of their second son arrived in early August, in the form of his Bible and a letter from Corporal H.W. Crayton of West Virginia. The letter read:


"19 July 1944. Somewhere in France.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Hoback

I really don't know how to start this letter to you folks, but will attempt to do something in words of writing... While walking along the beach D-DAY plus 1, I came upon this Bible and as most any person would do, I picked it up from the sands to keep it from being destroyed.....You have by now received a letter from your son saying he is well. I sincerely hope so. I imagine what has happened is your son dropped the book without any notice. Most everybody who landed on that beach D-Day lost something."²
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Besides the Bible, the Hobacks never received any other personal belongings of Raymond. For the rest of their lives, the family lived in mourning, where younger sister Lucille described every evening being a wake.

Ray Nance:
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The last to die of the Bedford Boys, then 29-year-old Lieutenant Ray Nance was the last surviving officer from Company A. He survived D-Day with a wounded hand and foot, He recalls his craft hitting the beach, the ramp lowering, and running towards the shore through the freezing and unforgiving water. He remembers his pack pulling him down and then before he knew it, he wound up on the cold sand, winded; when he turned around, he realized his craft had been targeted, the other men in his company laying dead across the sand.

Nance, who was an officer, was the first man off the landing craft on D-Day, and he believes this is what saved his life. After coming home to Bedford, he became a mail carrier, having to walk past several of the Bedford Boys' homes every morning. He also suffered from nightmares that plagued his sleep at night, going through the horror and suffering he witnessed first-hand at Omaha Beach. Families of other Bedford Boys would ask him if he remembered what happened to their sons. Bertie Woodford, sister of Taylor Feller who died with the others on D-Day, recalls seeing her father talking to Nance on a street corner, trying to find out what exactly happened.

The lieutenant died of a congestive heart failure April 19 in Bedford at the age of 94.

"You wondered what they were thinking: 'Why is he here and not my son or brother who will never be here'?" - Nance, LA Times³
"It's been with me all these years, and it hasn't been good for me." - Nance, LA Times³

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Aftermath

The Bedford Boys made the so called 'Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice'. While casualties ran high in cities across America, the small town of Bedford suffered the loss of the most men per capital on D-Day than any other community in the country. Families were broken up and their lives harshly uprooted. In total, 22 boys from Bedford died, 19 in the first minutes of D-Day on Omaha Beach, while the other three died of gunshot wounds later on. Several bodies were washed away and reported missing; some were eventually found, and the family received their sons/brothers in caskets to be buried. Those who survived found they could not bring themselves to discuss the events of what happened, and for the rest of their lives they lived with the burden of seeing their fellow 'buddies' and comrades die.

World War II was devastating, and as a result Bedford, Virginia, suffered the heavy blow the war delivered. Sons, brothers, and husbands were violently taken away from loved ones who waited anxiously at home, hoping to hear just a bit of news about the soldiers and praying they would not receive a telegram informing them of a death. For America, the burdens of the war were felt everywhere.






"Bedford's Longest Day"

"Finally, Bedford's longest day drew to a close. Families listened to President Franklin Roosevelt as he united all America in prayer:

'Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor... These men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate... They yearn but for he end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom...'

Three thousand miles away, as the lights went out in Bedford that night, nineteen of its sons already lay dead."
- excerpt from 'The Bedford Boys', by Alex Kershaw


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[¹] http://smokeys-trail.com/USA/bedford-2001.html
[²] 'Kershaw, Alex. The Bedford Boys. Cambridge: Da Capo P, 2003.
[³] http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-ray-nance7-2009may07,0,6096149.story

Book Source used:
1. Kershaw, Alex. The Bedford Boys. Cambridge: Da Capo P, 2003.