June 6, 1944: Nineteen boys from Bedford, Virginia--population just 3,000 in 1944--died in the first bloody minutes of D-Day. They were part of Company A of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division, and the first wave of American soldiers to hit the beaches in Normandy. Later in the campaign, three more boys from this small Virginia town died of gunshot wounds. Twenty-two sons of Bedford lost--it is a story one cannot easily forget and one that the families of Bedford will never forget.
The Bedford Boys is the true and intimate story of these men and the friends and families they left behind. Based on extensive interviews with survivors and relatives, as well as diaries and letters, Kershaw's book focuses on several remarkable individuals and families to tell one of the most poignant stories of World War II--the story of one small American town that went to war and died on Omaha Beach.
This accessible and moving group biography portrays the men of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, who were part of the first wave at Omaha Beach in WWII. Initially, 103 of them left the small town of Bedford, Va. now the site of the national D-Day memorial when the local National Guard was called up in 1940; 34 were still with the company on D-Day. Of these, 19 died in a matter of minutes and three more perished in the Normandy campaign. Men lost ranged from the company commander, Captain Taylor N. Fellers, from a wealthy Bedford family, to Frank Draper Jr., a fine athlete and soldier from the wrong side of the tracks. Long-time National Guardsman John Wilkes died as the company's top sergeant, while Earl Parker left behind a daughter he never saw. Both Holback brothers and Ray Stevens died, while Ray's twin Roy Stevens was one of the handful of survivors. Kershaw (Jack London) includes combat sequences that give a vivid private's- eye view of the particular hell that was Omaha Beach, while one of the most moving portions of the book is the simultaneous arrival in Bedford of nine "We regret to inform you..." telegrams. A capsule history of Bedford before the war, its role as part of the home front during it and its current place as (controversial) memorial site are all covered, but the book's central focus is on the town where a good many survivors remain whose memories have not faded and whose emotional wounds have not healed.