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The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-day Sacrifice Hardcover – April 15, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
On June 6, 1944, Allied armies launched their massive invasion of Europe--D-Day, in other words. Among the thousands of soldiers headed for France were 34 men from the town of Bedford, Virginia, aboard Empire Javelin, a British troopship. Nineteen of them were killed in the first minutes of combat, when their landing craft dropped them into the water off Normandy. Two more were killed later in the day from gunshot wounds. No other town in the U.S. endured a greater one-day loss. Kershaw's book is more than just another war story; here is an in-depth account of this blue-collar town and its 3,000 people. The soldiers included three sets of brothers, a pool-hall hustler, husbands, farmers, and a couple of "highly successful Lotharios." Kershaw describes in painful detail how the next of kin were notified of the soldiers' deaths via Western Union telegrams and how the news devastated their lives. Drawing on interviews with survivors and relatives, newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries, Kershaw has chronicled one community's great sacrifice. George Cohen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This book details the lives, loves and end of many men who served in the 29th Infantry Division. The division, made up of National Guard units from Maryland and Virginia was chosen to assault Omaha beach alongside the veteran 1st Infantry Division.
The story begins with the prewar, Depression era that impacted the lives of every American, but hit rural areas like Bedford especially hard. This lack of economic opportunity led many of these men to join the National Guard. It also meant that the men of this close-knit, rural area would serve together when war came.
This makes for excellent unit cohesion but also risks wiping out the manhood of an entire region when battle takes its toll. The book continues with their training, shipment to England in preparation for invasion of the continent and, finally, their role and massive losses in the amphibious assault.
The author very much focuses on the human element in this book. Interviews with surviving veterans, wives and relatives as well as letters from those who perished form he core of this book. It is the story of men and women rather than battles. It delves into their stay in Great Britain and their relations with the English people.
The story itself culminates in the inevitable telegrams. The young woman employed by Western Union tells about how, prior to this, she would get a "We regret to inform you..." telegram once a week or once every couple days. In the aftermath of the beach assault, they came...and came...and came. She thought the terrible notices would never end. The author does an excellent job of relating the enormity of the heartbreaking losses sustained on one day in that small Virginia town.
My only criticism is that the author does not give an evaluation of the military landings themselves that consigned so many men to "the glorious dead". The fact of the matter is that these men died as a direct result of their own commanders' planning. Despite all the experience gained at the cost of much blood in the Pacific, our military deliberately chose to land our troops directly into the teeth of the German defenses. Men whose landing craft were steered off course or taken there by the strong current largely landed intact with few losses. Those that were landed where they were supposed to were slaughtered.
Still and all, as a purely "human interest" type of story, the author has produced a good account of the lives of these "Bedford Boys". May their sacrifice always be remembered. Four stars.
The Bedford Boys focuses on Company A of the 116th infantry regiment, which was among the first units to land on D-Day. Company A was largely composed of residents of Bedford, VA. population 3000 in 1944, 22 Bedford Boys didn't return From Europe.
Kershaw relies on first person interviews for the bulk of the book, which gives the combat scenes a visceral quality. Kershaw takes you right down to the water line, as bullets whiz past your ear, and you wait for the ramp to drop. I have read many books on WWII, and these combat scenes are the best I've ever come across.
What sets Kershaw's narrative apart however is his ability to juxtapose the combat scenes with scenes from the homefront so as to give the reader a more complete understanding of the true cost of war.
I don't particularly like the author's writing style, one reason for only four stars. It may be personal taste, or it may be that I think the story should have been told a little differently. Heck, it may even be unfair. I definitely recommend you read the book, I just don't rate if my highest rating.
It essentially ends its war story with D-Day, but then so did Bedford's Company A. There is survivors' information, and the D-
Day Memorial now in the town. Worthwhile for any historian, anyone interested in how people live through difficult times.