The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw
The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice by Alex Kershaw
DaCapo Press, 2003; 274 pages.
ISBN # 0-306-81167-7
The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw is a monograph about the role of Company “A” of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division in Operation OVERLORD. Company “A” was originally a National Guard unit from Bedford, Virginia and, as part of the first assault wave on Omaha Beach during D-Day, suffered tremendous casualties. Kershaw’s book examines the loss of 22 of Bedford’s favorite sons in Normandy; a toll that gave the small Virginia hamlet the painful distinction as suffering the highest per capita loss of any American home town on D-Day. Kershaw acquaints readers with the impact of this grievous loss on the community, especially its effect on the families involved.
The author introduces readers to the young men of the Bedford area who joined the National Guard and then found themselves part of the regular army after the 29th Division was federalized in 1941. Along the way, we catch glimpses of who these valiant soldiers were: Taylor Fellers, the bright commanding officer of Company “A,” who worried about leading his men and then bringing them safely home; twin brothers Ray and Roy Stevens, young men who joined in 1938 to supplement their incomes but in 1944 found themselves charged with guiding warriors ashore in Normandy; Bedford and Raymond Hoback, another set of brothers who were almost exact opposites, except in their desire to get the job done and return home. Other members from Bedford are detailed and Kershaw sheds light on how these men were part of a well-oiled machine that was hurled at the Nazis on June 6, 1944.
A large portion of The Bedford Boys is devoted to telling the story of the unit’s D-Day preparation and how loved ones back home dealt with the pain of separation. Kershaw excels in both areas as he alternates between events in England and Virginia. For example, the story of Earl Parker and his young wife Viola is very poignant. The two were separated shortly before Earl learned of his wife’s pregnancy. Readers gain insight into the hardships faced by the couple as they anxiously lived their lives apart. Especially touching is the birth of their daughter. Earl and Viola agreed upon the name Danny before his arrival in Europe; the young sergeant earnestly believed the child would be a boy. After her birth, Viola decided to name the girl Danny as a means to boost her husband’s spirits. Tragically, Earl would never see his young daughter. He, like so many of his comrades, died on Omaha Beach.
Another moving account centers on the arrival of government telegrams in Bedford and the horrible news of the deaths of many loved ones. Teletype operator Elizabeth Teass had the unenviable task of copying the messages and routing them for delivery. Kershaw vividly relates her story. Teass watched in a “trance-like state” as the familiar names of so many friends rolled off the teletype. She made sure the deliveries were carried out with the utmost speed and confidentiality because Teass wanted no relative to learn of the agonizing news second-hand.
The Bedford Boys is not intended to be a detailed history of the 29th Division’s actions on Omaha Beach, nor is it an in-depth look at military operations in Normandy. There are a few instances where minor errors exist that relate to a unit’s movement and location relative to time, or incorrect dates for events. But these do not take away from the primary objective: to share a story of bravery, sacrifice and resiliency.
Kershaw makes extensive use of personal interviews, journals, diaries, newspaper articles and several primary and secondary source materials to provide a balanced account of a very touching story. The book is also complemented by more than 60 photographs that help readers make connections to those who are detailed within. Finally, The Bedford Boys is rounded out by the inclusion of a roster of Bedford men who participated in D-Day, a bibliography of secondary sources and thoroughly documented end notes.
Overall, The Bedford Boys is a well-written, absorbing account of how the world’s largest amphibious operation forever altered the history a small American town. Some may see it as an anti-war book, but others will focus on how it honors the sacrifice made by so many to vanquish one of the darkest forces of evil this world has ever seen. Those wanting to know more about this tragic, but stirring episode in American history will definitely want to read this book.
Reviewer: Allen Williams
Russell Pickett, a member of Company “A” on D-Day and one of the veterans that participated in our inaugural International Experience. In this photo, Russell was relating the company’s experiences in Ivy Bridge, England as we toured the village. Russell’s story is part of Mr. Kershaw’s book.