combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2007

The Last of the Bedford Boys
the Sad Sad Story of Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade, 29th Infantry Division

When twin brothers Roy and Ray Stevens of Bedford, Virginia joined Company A, First Battalion, 116th Infantry of the Twenty NInth Infantry Division in 1938, they could not know that their decision would completely destroy their dream of one day owning a farm together.

Joining the hometown National Guard unit simply meant they would be receiving thirty dollars per month from the U.S. government for playing soldier one night a week and two weeks every summer. Times were hard in the small farming community of Bedford, population three thousand, as Roosevelt's New Deal had not yet lifted them out of the Great Depression. Oh sure, it was possible that they could be called to active duty but they didn't think much about it. Besides, if that happened at least they'd go together; which is exactly what happened on February 18, 1941, as the Bedford Boys found themselves on a train headed for Fort Meade, Maryland.

Co A, 1 Bn, 116 Bde, 29 Inf Div

The Twenty Ninth was activated, initially for twelve months, but Captain Taylor Fellers, Commanding Officer of Company A, knew the twelve month period was not set in stone. The world was an increasingly dangerous place and he thought the Bedford Boys best be ready for anything. He was determined that Company A would be the equal of any and he was equally determined that his boys not be ridiculed by the Regular Army guys who generally looked down their noses at National Guardsmen, not seeing them as real soldiers.

Patriotism played a part in Ray Nance joining the Guard in 1933, but the tobacco farmer admits that thirty a month was also an enticement. Today, he's quick to say – "that was cash money." Nance had been sent to Richmond for Officers training and was a Second Lieutenant when Company A was activated. He knew all the Bedford Boys and felt keenly his responsibility to them. The Twenty Ninth was known as the Blue/Grey Division, composed of men from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia and soon after his arrival at Meade, Nance would have men he didn't know assigned to his platoon. He was determined that these new men would blend well and he took a personal interest in them also. On a personal note, Nance knew that Taylor Fellers was very strict and he was equally determined not to let him down.

Master Sergeant John Wilkes, A big bear of a man had proven himself an able soldier and rose quickly to Company First Sergeant. Wilkes demanded instant obedience and tolerated no slackers. But underneath, his young wife Bettie knew he was sensitive and passionate. During his time stateside Bettie vowed to be with John as much as possible, a vow she kept, even traveling to Florida with other wives when the Twenty Ninth went on maneuvers.

Earl Newcomb had learned to cook in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, so when he joined Company A in 1934, it seemed a natural transition to Mess Sergeant. Earl had made a vow too, get hot food to Company A whenever humanly possible.

Allen Huddleston had been a Soda Jerk at one of two Bedford Drug stores before joining Company A just before they left for Fort Meade. "I knew the draft was coming so I thought if I was going to war, I'd rather go with people I knew." At Meade the Bedford Boys got a taste of what real soldiering was all about. They could soon strip their M1s blindfolded and those who didn't know soon learned about military etiquette or else they'd be facing an Article 15 – two hours of extra duty. They went on maneuvers twice, to North Carolina and Florida, where they used new radios and motorized vehicles while learning how to attack and enemy. Also while at Meade they learned about the advantages of central heating and running water, something most Bedford Boys had never had.

While the longest pass was two days, and Bedford was seven hours away, the boys would find a way to get there and spend some time with family, wives and girlfriends. If they couldn't get home, the home folk, especially wives, would find a way to get to them.

But by the summer of '41 boredom began to set in and grousing began. If there was no war, why did they have to be away from home? What was this army stuff all about anyway? Come December 7, 1941, they would find out.

On that day, the Twenty Niners were in North Carolina, alternately cursing the ice and then the mud. Roy Stevens remembers how Pearl Harbor changed attitudes – "I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was but I was mad. We'd slug back a beer, and vow to whup 'em good and still be home for Christmas." Not likely, especially since on that day, twelve months became for the duration.

For the next ten months, the Bedford Boys and their comrades in the Twenty Ninth trained and at days end the conversation would always get around to what part they would play in this war. If we're supposed to fight, why aren't we fighting? Not everyone was so eager. Sergeant Earl Parker had just found out his wife was pregnant with their first child. Parker was in no hurry to leave the USA.

It's an old axiom that it takes the army a while to move but then it moves fast. It wouldn't be long, September 1942 to be exact when the Blue/Grey Division found themselves on the way to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Now they knew they were on the way to Europe. While they wanted to slap the Japs, the Germans would have to do. Now the Bedford Boys wondered – how long?

Security was tight at Kilmer and try as they might, the Bedford wives who wanted one last glimpse of their husbands found it very difficult. Somehow, Ray Stevens and a buddy wrangled a pass to DC to visit his buddy's sister. It was here that Ray, for the first time declared that if he went to war he wouldn't come back.

Come September 26, 1942 and the Twenty niners were bound for Europe either on the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth, luxury liners in civilian life but not now. They were amazed at the Spartan-like existence on these once opulent vessels; but of course they were carrying seven thousand men each plus crew.

Company A would not even be to England before the men got a taste of what it was like to see death close up.

The Queen Mary was under orders to stop for nothing and for that reason could not stop for survivors when she hit one of the escort ships, Curacoa, splitting her completely in two. Allen Huddleston remembers the horror. "I was lying on my bunk when I felt a slight thud. I looked out a porthole, just in time to see half a ship sinking. We didn't even slow down." The Twenty Niners were shocked to see hundreds of men drowning with no effort to rescue them. So this is what war was like. We are all expendable they thought. Like another even more serious incident at a training area called Slapton Sands, where 800 GI's died , the Curacoa accident was hushed up. Officers and men were told to say nothing and like the good soldiers they were, they obeyed.

The Twenty Ninth arrived in England on a typical English, gray, cold, and rainy day. They arrived at their new quarters, Tidworth Barracks on October 4th, 1942; a freezing cold place heated by two pot bellied stoves which were extinguished at lights out. Their straw mattresses soon produced a Scabies epidemic. After they finished scratching Company A began twenty months of intensive training, a record unmatched by any other Infantry unit. They were going to be part of something big.

At the time the Twenty Ninth Commander was Major General Leonard Gerow. Gerow was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and knew the West Pointers back in Washington had many doubts about the mostly National Guard soldiers in his command. Gerow was determined that his boys would measure up and the ones who couldn't would be reassigned.

Taylor Fellers

Taylor Fellers understood what Gerow was trying to do. Weed out the guys who couldn't hack it. Better to find out now then later when it might cost lives. And there were some who could not measure up. Lugging around a hundred pound barracks bag was too much for some, not to mention running a hundred yards in combat boots in twelve seconds. Nor could they do thirty five pushups, ten chin-ups, sprint through an obstacle course, then follow that with deadly accurate fire with a .45 automatic, and M1 Rifle or a BAR. (Browning Automatic Rifle) They were not less brave, just less physically able. But Roy Stevens points out that "some men were transferred because of exceptional stamina, to Ranger and Paratrooper units, and some were sent to Officer Candidate School."

The winter of 1942-43 was the coldest on record in England, but the training never slackened. Twenty five mile marches in large overcoats were the norm. "You'd have icicles on the outside and be sweating like crazy on the inside," remembers one Twenty Niner.

Come spring of '43 and the Bedford Boys were camping out on the hated moors. "You couldn't stay dry," says Allen Huddleston. But Captain Fellers never let up. Huddleston goes on, "One time we had to set up our pup tents in a driving rain. Captain Fellers kicked a bunch of them down because they weren't in perfect alignment. Guys were still in them."

Roy Stevens knew Taylor Fellers better than anyone, especially the good time guy under the tough exterior. "Sometimes, on a long march, I'd go up and walk beside him and start talking about the good days back home. I could really get him going. Of course this was always out of earshot."

But even men training for the greatest military venture of all time (by this time their was plenty of talk about what they were being trained for) had to have some play time and nobody can play like an American GI. They'd visit the pub, imbibe too much, be carried to their barracks, wake up the next morning with a terrible hangover, vowing never to be so foolish again, a vow that would last till the next pub visit.

A lot of resentment existed among English soldiers who didn't have the pocketbook to compete with the Americans when it came to courting English women. This led to the popular saying – the American GI is over sexed, over paid, and over here.

Another characteristic of the American GI is that no matter how tough it gets he will never lose his sense of humor. After a year and a half in England, the Twenty Niners were anxious to get on with the job and go home. Once a traveling Evangelist had a huge sign on his tent that read: WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY? A GI had scrawled underneath – IN ENGLAND!

On occasion too, the GI's could wax poetic. About the hated moors they sang:

Not all Twenty Niners were so anxious to leave England. There had been some transfers in from the First Division (THE BIG RED ONE) who'd experienced combat in North Africa. They'd had a taste of battle and were not anxious to repeat the experience.

As for Bedford Boy, Earl Parker who'd just become the father of a beautiful baby girl named, Danny, he declared he would gladly stay in England if it kept him from assaulting a beach.

It was July of 1943, when a spit and polish West Pointer named Charles H. Gerhardt replaced General Gerow as commander of the Twenty Ninth. Along with his fearsome reputation came the information that he had little regard for National Guardsmen. He then shocked everyone by granting three day passes. It was the lull before the storm.

Gerhardt had waited twenty years for this chance and he wasn't going to blow it. The honey moon lasted a few weeks and then Uncle Charley began to crack the whip. He appeared before the Twenty Niners in Pattonesque attire and announced that everyone, enlisted and officer alike would hence forth shave clean every day, in cold water if necessary. All vehicles would be polished and as spotless as uniforms. And Uncle Charley's biggest hang-up – chin straps would be fastened at all times. He also had a problem with familiarity. If someone got too close, he'd bark – "that's far enough!"

Allen Huddleston

Gerhardt was hated by many but he didn't care. He'd already been informed that the Twenty Ninth would spearhead the greatest land invasion in history and he would not fail. It was this attitude that undoubtedly brought victory but would identify Uncle Charley as the General with three divisions, one in the field, one in the hospital, and one in the cemetery.

To give his men a feeling that they were special he came up with an inspiring battle cry – Twenty Nine Let's Go! Before World War Two was over, other units who'd tired of Gerhardt's battle cry, would reply – "Twenty Nine Go Ahead!" It was September of 1943 when Taylor Fellers told Ray Nance that Company A would probably be chosen as part of a spearhead that would assault the coast of France. Everything was hush hush but most caught on as soon as they began training on how to land on a heavily defended beach. "We had an important job to do and that's when the real work began." The troops got a little nervous when everyone, from Uncle Charley on down had to take swimming lessons. But not everyone learned how to swim.

The closer Taylor Fellers got to Operation Overlord, better known as D Day, the less confident he became. He listened with doubting ears as the planners said the landing would be a snap. Heavy bombers would take out the enemy pillboxes, and in so doing create ready made foxholes on the beach. Demolition experts would destroy all of Erwin Rommels carefully placed mines and other defenses. The Battleship Texas would obliterate whatever the bombers missed, and LCT's (Landing Craft Tanks) adorned with special flotation devices would hit the beach before the infantry and give covering fire.

Fellers listened and doubted even more. For everything to go as planned would take a minor miracle. At one meeting, though only a captain, he spoke up. "Sir, I could take one BAR and hold that beach." He got no reply. As he and Ray Nance left the meeting, Fellers said, "we'll all be killed Ray."

The 116th Infantry of which Company A was a part would be assaulting a beach code named Omaha. They were already being referred to as the suicide wave.

Dwight Eisenhower had originally scheduled Overlord for the 5th of June, but bad weather postponed the landing to June 6, 1944. The weather was better but there was considerable cloud cover and the English Channel was choppy.

Taylor Fellers had plenty of company in his opinion. Some higher ranking officers believed the landing should be at night, which would give an element of surprise. One officer who'd served in the Pacific even questioned the landing craft to be used. The LCA's (Landing Craft Assault) would come to a stop as soon as they hit beach. Landing craft with treads which would continue as they hit land would be better and give more protection. He was essentially told to mind his own business, this was the Europe and they would do things their way. The landing craft would be LCA's and the first wave would hit the beach at 6:30 AM.

As D Day approached, the already anxious men of Company A had their anxiety increased when Taylor Fellers came down with a bad sinus infection and was hospitalized. They needn't have worried. When they lined up to board the HMS Javelin, Fellers was there. "I trained you and I've come to die with you if that's what it takes." Roy Stevens says, "It lifted our spirits to have our leader back."

Charles Gerhardt was standing on the dock as the Twenty Niners boarded. "Are you ready men?" Bedford Boy, Bedford Hoback who was on the same LCA as his brother Raymond, said: "Yes sir, we're sure ready."

The Javelin moved out in to the Channel and Roy and Ray Stevens stood at the rail with Earl Parker. Parker took the photo of his daughter Danny out of his pocket and said, "If I could see her just once, I wouldn't mind dying."

Twelve miles from Omaha, the troops stepped off the Empire Javelin, and into their LCA's. Roy was on a separate craft than Ray and Roy was still bothered by Ray's feeling of impending death. Roy had refused to shake his brother's hand on the ship because he knew Ray saw it as their final contact. "I'll shake your hand later, up at the crossroads above the beach sometime later this morning." Ray offered his hand again and again Roy refused.

As he sat hunkered down in LCA 911, Stevens looked over at twenty year old VMI graduate, Lieutenant Edward Gearing, a born leader, so young, yet so competent.

Ray and Alpha Nance

Over in LCA 910, English Sub-Lieutenant Jimmy Green stood beside Taylor Fellers. Green couldn't help but feel that the sixty pounds each Twenty Niner was carrying would be too much weight in deep water. Suddenly, Green winced as the stern of 910 collided with 911. There didn't appear to be any damage, but a short time later his stoker said 910 was taking on water. Green decided to go ahead, depending on the pumps to keep them afloat. His orders were to get these men to Omaha by 6:30AM.

As they headed inland they didn't know that the bombers had missed their mark completely. Because of cloud cover, the pilots, fearful of hitting their own men, had dropped their bombs far inland, killing some French civilians and cows, but no Germans. There would be no ready made foxholes.

To make matters worse, the LCT's, their flotation devices inadequate in the choppy water, were either falling behind or sinking. They would give no covering fire. Captain Fellers knew what this meant but when asked by Jimmy Green if the LCA's could go ahead of the tanks, he replied, "Yes, we must get there on time."

Now the only help to the men landing on Omaha Beach would come from the Battleship Texas, which began firing shells and rockets toward the beach. Jimmy Green got a sinking feeling as he watched the rockets fall harmlessly in the water. Sixty two years later, there is still a debate whether the shells from the Texas did any damage to the Germans.

During an interview with Roy Stevens in his living room on August 10, 2006, Stevens was asked if a kind of Murphy's Law applied to D Day. He replied, "yes, battles never go as planned."

At 6:00AM, Ray Nance who was scheduled to land at 7:30 peered through a slot in his LCA, remembering to keep his head down. His job would be to set up a command post, so when Radio man and Bedford Boy John Clifton told him the antennae was broken on the radio, Nance told him to keep it and they'd repair it on the beach.

In LCA 11, Roy Stevens said a prayer for himself and his comrades, most of whom were so seasick they didn't care whether they lived or died. Then, suddenly, their craft began to sink beneath them. They tried bailing with helmets but it was too little, too late and soon everybody was in the water. Stevens could barely swim and his sixty pounds began to drag him under. Luckily Bedford Boy Clyde Powers was a good swimmer and kept Stevens from drowning. While bobbing in the water, they heard their Radio Operator announce that he was drowning. They looked around and the man was gone. Lieutenant Gearing, the born to soldier twenty year old saved a couple of men by swimming to them and cutting their packs off. Their situation seemed hopeless until Jimmy Green, passing them in LCA 911 told them to hang on and he'd pick them up on the way back. Hearing this, Gearing told Roy Stevens he was in charge and to keep talking and make sure the men stayed together. With that, Gearing started swimming toward the beach. The men in the water said they knew Stevens would keep them and himself alive because he was concerned about his brother. Jimmy Green kept his promise and soon those who had survived the sinking were back on the Javelin. They would return to England, be rested refitted, then sent back to Omaha Beach.

LCA 10 touched down on time, thirty yards from sure. Taylor Fellers thanked Jimmy Green for getting them in. Fellers had asked Green to give him some covering fire when they got in the water because, "My men are National Guard troops and have never been in combat." As much as Green wanted to honor the request, he couldn't – the water was just too rough. Green watched as Fellers and his men, which included Bedford boys and brothers Raymond and Bedford Hoback walk through the water with their weapons held high. Upon reaching the beach they lay prone fifty yards from their objective, the D1 Vierville draw. As they stood up to run to their objective the Germans opened up. Within seconds Taylor Fellers, husband, son, brother and leader of men along with the twenty nine soldiers in his LCA lay dead.

The LCA containing Master Sergeant John Wilkes experienced the same withering fire but he and some of his men miraculously made it to the beach. The last they saw of him Wilkes was firing his M1 at a German emplacement. He would be found later, a bullet through his forehead. Bette's passionate, sensitive man would not be coming home. Nor would Earl Parker, the Bedford Boy who said he would gladly die if he could see his daughter Danny just one time. His body was never found.

Lieutenant Ray Nance remembers that when his LCA got to the beach, the ramp wouldn't go down. "GET IT DOWN!", he said, knowing the Germans would be keying in on the craft. Finally the ramp went down and Nance plowed straight ahead. When he looked around no one was behind him. The Germans had annihilated most of his men in an instant. As he got closer to the beach he saw the body of Bedford Hoback. (Raymond Hoback's body was never found) Then he saw the bodies of two more Bedford Boys. Nance was shocked by the carnage. He'd trained these good men, saw them grow as soldiers. "I felt responsible for them, every last one. They were the finest soldiers I ever saw."

Then, Nance collected himself. He had a job to do. he started to craw toward a cliff, the only available cover. Suddenly a machine gun bullet tore away part of his heel and blood spurted. It was then that Nance had the first of two D Day experiences he'd never forget. "Just as I was about to give up hope I looked up in the sky, which had a rosy appearance. A warm feeling came over me and I knew I was going to live."

Earl and Joe Parker

A short time later Nance had his second experience. "An immaculately dressed Navy Corpsman leaned over me and began dressing my wound. He gave me a shot of morphine, said 'this is worse then Salerno, good luck to you'. Then he was gone." When Nance told this story people told him he was hallucinating, no one could look that good after coming in on an LCA. But Nance had his bandaged foot to prove his story. Today he feels that if his Navy Corpsman was heaven-sent, that's okay with him.

Later in what became The Longest Day, a Sergeant came by and carried Nance to an aid station. "He put me down and I noticed what looked like a pie plate. I started to put my hand on it. The Sergeant shouted – 'don't touch it'." Nance had nearly put his hand on a German mine.

Whether Ray Nance's Navy Corpsman was real or not, there was another angel of mercy on Omaha that day. His name was Cecil Breeden, Company A's Medic. He was credited with saving many lives and would continue to do so all the way to Germany. Breeden was not an angel but he may have been under God's special care since he never got a scratch of his own. Many thought the Iowan deserved the Medal of Honor but he never received it.

On June 11th, the men who survived the sinking of LCA 911 landed on Omaha Beach. The Germans who initially thought they had repelled the landing had either retreated, surrendered, or died as a result of the inexorable military might displayed by the allies. As put by one German officer, Operation Overlord, was an example of how a rich man makes war. It could be said that D Day was the beginning of the end for Hitler and his war machine. But there would be over ten months more of fighting and dying.

Roy Stevens was intent on finding his brother. The first thing he and Clyde Powers did (Powers also had a brother in another LCA) was visit the cemetery. Stevens walked to the section of the cemetery that had names starting with S. He scraped some mud from one dog tag hanging from a cross and saw that it belonged to his twin brother Ray. At the same time, Powers found his brother Jack. "We just stood and looked at each other." Finally Stevens said, "Come on Clyde, let's get the men who did this." As Roy Stevens left the cemetery, one thought came to mind. "Why didn't I shake his hand?" As things turned out, the Powers and Stevens families would at least have one son return from war. The Hoback family had lost both sons.

In all, nineteen Bedford Boys died on June 6, 1944. Three would be killed later. No other community in the United States suffered such a loss. Only ten percent of A Company had survived the landing without being killed or wounded. They truly were the suicide wave.

Roy Stevens vowed to kill one German for each of his buddies. On June thirteenth, he volunteered to lead a patrol, then regretted his decision. "At that moment I looked in the bottom of my foxhole and saw the face of Jesus Christ. He said, 'go ahead, you'll come back'." Stevens survived the patrol. "I'd come back just like Jesus said I would. Right then and there I prayed and made a deal with God: if You let me get home, I'll be Your servant."

Men react differently to tragedy. Clyde Powers mourned while Roy Stevens wanted revenge. He went on other dangerous patrols and even volunteered to take messages to artillery units. Word got around that he had a death wish, which led to a reprimand from his CO. "You take it easy. it's going to take all of us to win this."

Roy Stevens combat time came to an end on June 30th when a bouncing betty mine shredded him with ball bearings. While lying in sick bay, he noticed he was lying next to men deemed too far gone. He grabbed the smock of a passing nurse. "I'm not here to die, I just need a little help." The nurse replied, "If you let go of me I'll see what I can do." Surgery saved Stevens life and he was flown to a hospital in England on July 30th.

Roy and Helen Stevens

While in the hospital he wrote a poem about Ray and included it in a letter to his mother:
          Twin brother farewell
          I'll never forget that morning
          It was the sixth 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'LL have to go there alone

          Oh brother I think of you
          All through the 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 fellows take my warning
          Believe it from start to end
          If you ever have a twin brother
          Don't go to the battle with him
This poem now rests on the wall of Roy Stevens Bedford Home.

Bedford Boy Allen Huddleston missed the D Day landing due to suffering a broken ankle in training. Of his broken ankle he says, "I guess I was just lucky."

Huddleston would rejoin Company A on the 28th of August. He recognized no one. "My first day somebody asked me if I knew Joe Parker. I said yes. He said, well he was killed yesterday." Like the Hoback family, the Parker family would lose both sons. Huddleston goes on to say that Mess Sergeant Earl Newcomb was still with Company A, "but I never saw him."

Newcomb would continue to make sure the boys of Company A had hot chow till the end of the war. Then he would come home to Bedford.

Allen Huddleston would survive in combat until September 30, when a severe shoulder wound would take him out of action. He still remembers the cumbersome wire brace he wore for several months. "I complained but they told me if they put a cast on it they couldn't tell if it was bleeding." Huddleston still gets forty percent disability.

When families back in Bedford got news of the D Day landing, they huddled around their radios. They had no way of knowing whether their men had been involved in the landing because mail was heavily censored, but they suspected this was the reason Company A was in England for such a long time. News of the invasion filled them with renewed vigor. Wives and mothers who had rolled thousands of bandages rolled even more, filled with the hope that their sons and husbands would soon be home. They could not know that nineteen of the Bedford Boys already lay in foreign graves or floated lifelessly off the coast of France. The question is still being asked – why did it take so long to tell us?

On July 4th, 1944, the Bedford Bulletin reported that Company A had been commended for their actions on D Day – but still, no news about individual Bedford Boys. It was about this time that letters written to the men came back as undeliverable.

Bette Wilkes would be the first to get some news, a month after D Day, and it was much less than official. She was standing on a street corner when called to by a woman across the street. "Bette, did you hear about John?" Then the woman crossed the street – "he was killed." Bette rushed home in a state of shock. Family tried to convince her that surely the government would have told her if anything had happened. Bette Wilkes never revealed the name of the bearer of bad tidings.

Another letter followed to the Fellers family that Taylor had been killed, but still no word from the Army. According to Helen Stevens, "it was like waiting for an earthquake."

On July 17th, twenty one year old Elizabeth Teass reported to her job at Green's drugstore where she was the Western Union Operator. She switched on her teletype machine and sounded a bell heard in Roanoke twenty-five miles away. She typed the words, GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. BEDFORD. Words came chattering back. GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. ROANOKE. WE HAVE CASUALTIES. Teass watched as one telegram, then two, then three came through. She waited for it to stop but it didn't, not for a long time. Teass was in shock, why so many? But she knew her job. The families must be the first to know.

D-Day Memorial in Bedford

Today, Elizabeth Teass is somewhat embittered because some have suggested she handed out the telegrams willy nilly for delivery. "Mr. Frank Thomas, an employee of the drug store usually delivered telegrams in town, so he took some. But some of the families lived outside town. Mr. Carder, the Undertaker delivered one of these. Sheriff Jim Marshall took one and so did Doctor Rucker. Then, Mr. Roy Israel who operated the town taxi service told me not to hand out anymore, that he would deliver the rest. Each telegram that was delivered had to have a verification of delivery slip come back. Bedford was one quiet little town, everyone's heart was broken."

Roy Stevens may have said it best. "A veil of tears hung over Bedford."

There could not possibly be a more appropriate place for the National D Day Memorial that was dedicated on June 6th, 2001.

Of the thirty five Bedford Boys who went away to war, thirteen came home. Of those, four are still living in Bedford, Virginia.

Roy Stevens lives quietly with his wife, Helen. He returned to Omaha Beach in June of '94, the fiftieth anniversary of the landing. He played an active role in the establishment of the D Day Memorial in 2001.

Ray Nance and his wife, Alpha both have a military history as Alpha was an Army Nurse. Ray is most proud that he reestablished Company A in 1948. He thought it would be a good morale booster and it was as young men flocked to join. The men of Company A went to war again in 2004 in Afghanistan. This time all the Bedford Boys came home. Perhaps God had decided that Bedford had suffered enough.

Allen Huddleston is a widower and still subscribes to the magazine, The Twenty Niner. When he came home he operated a photo shop and is now a talented painter. Others give Huddleston credit for writing the inscription on the 1954 monument to the Bedford Boys. But he modestly says, "it was a group effort."

Earl Newcomb is still proud of his ability to get hot food to his comrades, no matter the situation. He narrowly missed being assigned to the Pacific theater when he came home in 1945. The Atom bomb assured he would not have to go.

One question that has always been debated is why Company A was chosen to go in with the first wave. General Gerhardt explained it this way when he came to Bedford to dedicate the 1954 memorial. Why was the 116th Infantry picked for that particular job? Because they showed the characteristics necessary on that particular day. Who were these boys? The record of the Twenty Ninth goes back to 1620, through the regimental history of Virginia troops, and their record has been unequalled. Those boys were the descendants of those who fought with Jackson, Lee, and Stuart.

But perhaps there is a simpler explanation; that the commanders knew the type of soldiers they were sending would carry out their orders, no matter what; that though they feared the dragon, they would not hesitate to march into the mouth of the dragon if that was their part of the mission. Nothing typifies this better than Taylor Fellers' reply to Jimmy Green when Green asked if it was okay to go in before the tanks. "Yes, we must get there on time."

      The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw
      Beyond the Beachhead by Joseph Balkowski
      29 Let's Go! A History of the Twenty Ninth Division
      June 6, 1944, The Voices Of D Day
      tape-recorded interviews with Roy Stevens, Ray Nance, and Allen Huddleston

by Don Haines
... who is a U.S. Army Cold War veteran, American Legion Post 191 chaplain, a retired Registered Nurse, and freelance writer; whose work has previously appeared in this magazine as well as in World War Two History, and many other publications.

Table of

C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones