The Ultimate Story Of Sacrifice On D-Day: The Bedford Boys
It has now been 73 years since the Allies conducted the largest amphibious military assault in history. D-Day is the story of collective sacrifices from small towns around the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the story of the “Bedford Boys.”
On June 6, 1944, Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division made the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day. 34 men from this company were from the small town of Bedford, Virginia. They were among the first waves of troops to land on Omaha Beach. 19 of Bedford’s finest were killed during these initial landings. Another three died later in the invasion. Author Alex Kershaw dedicated a book to the story of these men, titled, The Bedford Boys. In it, he writes, “No community in the state or in America or indeed in any Allied nation had lost as many sons as Bedford.”
The Bedford Boys leaving England for Normandy in 1944. (Photo: tommymarkham.com)
In 1944, the town of Bedford had a population of around 3,200. In one-day, it had suffered a higher loss of life than any other community. Everyone in Bedford was affected by what had happened. After the invasion, many of the men’s families would have to wait weeks to learn the fate of their loved ones. John and Macie Hoback were residents of Bedford. Their sons Raymond and Bedford Hoback were part of Company A. On an unforgettable Sunday morning, a local Sheriff brought them a telegram stating that their son, Bedford had been killed on Omaha. The following day they received another telegram that their other son, Raymond, was missing in action. Lucille Hoback was the brothers’ sister. She recalled that after receiving those telegrams, “My mother was never the same.” Like so many of Bedford’s families, nothing in their small town would ever be the same after D-Day. Perhaps Alex Kershaw put it best when he wrote, “In a matter of minutes, a couple of German machine gunners had broken the town’s heart.”
Brothers, Raymond and Bedford Hoback. (Photo: tommymarkham.com)
Prior to World War II, the Bedford Boys were part of a National Guard Unit. All of them were volunteers. As tensions around the world continued to heighten, Company A was activated into federal service. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bedford Boys along with the rest of the country mobilized for war. In 1942, they were sent to England and spent 21 months in training for what would eventually become the Allied invasion of Normandy. Historynet.com writes, “While other American divisions saw combat in North Africa, Italy, and the Pacific, the 29th continued with its training.” The Bedford Boys first test of combat would be on D-Day. This wasn’t uncommon as Alex Kershaw writes, “Only one of the eleven American divisions in Britain before D-Day-the 1st Division- had seen combat.”
The Bedford Boys in England, 1943. (Photo: tommymarkham.com)
Inexperience didn’t worry the Bedford Boys’ senior commanders. They were confident that the firefight on Omaha wouldn’t last long after naval guns and aircraft softened up the German defenses. Tanks were also supposed to land before the first waves of infantry did and lead them up the beach. Neither of those things happened. Most of the ordinance from the naval and aerial bombardment either fell short or failed to destroy the strongly built German fortifications. In the violent waves leading to Omaha, tanks had a difficult time maneuvering and failed to effectively make their way to the beach. Many Americans paid the price for these tragic circumstances. It is estimated that American forces suffered around 2,500 casualties on Omaha.
Medics give aid to one of the many casualties on Omaha Beach. (Photo: US Army Center Of Military History)
Ray Nance was one of the Bedford Boys who survived on D-Day. He recalled the moments after his boat reached Omaha Beach, “The minute the ramp went down they opened up. We must have been torn up pretty badly. A good many men were killed on the ramp.” Most of the men on Nance’s boat were victims of the German MG-42 machine gun. According to Alex Kershaw, “The MG-42 would kill more Americans than any other weapon in Normandy. It fired three times faster than any American equivalent.”
A German MG-42 machine gun crew along the French Coast. (Photo: Military History Now)
Company A is estimated to have suffered a 90 percent casualty rate on Omaha Beach. Historynet.com writes, “Less than 10 minutes after the ramps dropped, Company A was virtually gone.” This kind of sacrifice has come to define the struggle on Omaha. Disaster on this beach was only avoided after Naval commanders began to move their ships close enough to the shore to hit the German positions. Lt. Joe Smith was a Navy Beachmaster at Omaha. He emphasized the importance of this action by the Navy, saying, “There is no question in my mind that the few Navy destroyers that we had there saved the invasion.”
"HMS Warspite, 1944 off Normandy." (Photo: Maritime Quest)
At the end of the Longest Day, it was clear that the Allies had firmly established a spearhead into Western Europe. Alex Kershaw took note of the aftermath, writing, “Total casualties-dead and wounded-for the entire Allied invasion forces approached 10,000, a loss of 10 percent given that just over 100,000 men were now in Normandy.” The price was high, but it spelled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.
A photo of Omaha Beach after it had been secured on D-Day. (Photo: Dailymail.co.uk)
The legacy of D-Day is important for every future generation to consider. This was the riskiest and most important military operation ever performed. The future of free people everywhere depended on those who would storm the beaches of Normandy. Because so many were willing to perform the most incredible acts of courage the world has ever known, the future of freedom was safeguarded. For the sake of humanity, others made the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that the greatest sacrifice of all on D-Day was made by Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, eternally remembered as the Bedford Boys.
The Bedford Boys in Virginia before being sent over to Europe. (Photo: tommymarkham.com)
The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford, Virginia.
The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. (Photo: PatriotRetort.com)
To learn more about the story of the Bedford Boys, please watch my video below.