Thousands remembered at Bedford D-Day

Pam Dudding
Contributing writer

In a speech that came in the form of a prayer from President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the evening of the dreadful Normandy invasion, the following words were said, “God, they will need thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard, for the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”

Thousands were in attendance at the Bedford D-Day Memorial Service on Thursday, June 6, honoring the 75th Anniversary. The event was appropriately titled, “The Final Salute.”

Though the facility had planned and placed chairs and large TV screens throughout the grounds, there was no standing room. WDBJ-7 and Framatome assisted in helping to telecast the day’s event.

For many, words were of no value, when they watched the long line of World War II Veterans cross the bridge in front of the Overlord Waterfall, to be honored with a medallion for their sacrifice and dedication, commemorating their valor, fidelity and sacrifice during Operation Overlord.

Some walked, though slowly, they walked. Some used canes and walkers. Others were in wheelchairs. Some, of course, were unable to make the trip due to physical inabilities or PTSD.

No one complained when the hot sun came out. People stood over an hour while more than 100 Veterans were honored.

Tears flowed, hands were extended, pictures were taken, and salutes raised in respect.

The common response of many WWII Veterans echoed in the air that day, “I just did my job, and I would do it again for my country.”

The heartfelt comradery that extended amongst the Veterans appeared to pierce the souls of those around. Hugs were stronger, handshakes were longer and looks between Veterans were so deep that words such as “honor” and “respect” made many emotional.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General of the U. S. Marines Joseph Dunford Jr. wrote, “The Bedford Boys and our World War II Veterans wrote a significant chapter of our country’s history. Their story reminds us that the freedom we enjoy today was fiercely fought for by those who answered the call to serve. We honor and respect their loyalty, courage and sacrifice.”

As several flyovers were conducted, the words of many Veterans were spoken over the intercom.

Some of the titles of the words that had been written of those Normandy days brought a sadness to people’s hearts as they were so vivid in their expressions of death and war. They were:

•“We are about to embark on the most critical operation of the war…” Admiral B. Ramsey, Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief, Expeditionary Force

• “What am I doing here?” PFC George Alex, 82nd Airborne Division

• “I was mesmerized by the scene around me.” John Fitzgerald, 101th Airborne Division

• “The water was turning red from the blood.” John “Bob’ Slaughter, D/116th Inf. 29th Div. Omaha Beach.

• “Every man was a hero…” Sergeant Cecil Breeden, A/116th Inf., 29th Div. Omaha Beach.

• “I laid among the dead…” Cpl. William Dabney, 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion

• “I heard cries for help…” Major John Ahearn, C Company, 70th Infantry Division

Between the readings, they flew the C-47, B-17, B-25, the German FW-190, P-51, the Royal Air Force Flyover, which included the Spitfire, Hurricane and the Mosquito, the United States Flyover which included the C-130, C5 Galaxy the C17 Boeing and the 400, as well as the infamous B-52 bomber which shook the skies.

When Vice President Michael R. Pence spoke, everyone listened attentively.

“Our Veterans gathered here, especially members of the greatest generation and my fellow Americans, it is my great honor to join you here today, the National D-Day Memorial alongside men who fought on this day 75 years ago.

It’s humbling to be with you all and thank you for your presence in joining us here to remember the service and sacrifice that triumphed over tyranny and won back, not just a continent but the world back to freedom, on June 6, 1944, Operation Overlord. What General Eisenhower called, ‘The Great Crusade.’

They embarked with the eyes of the world upon them. They sailed across the channel of the beaches to Normandy. Carried aloft as their General said, “By the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere.”

They knew the odds. They knew the enemies. They knew the enemy would fight savagely to defend that crucial stronghold.

Every soldier who stepped ashore was as, Private 1st Class Chuck Neighbors said, “A visitor to hell.” But the men of D-day pressed forward.

In the chaos of battle, the bravery of men like Private 1st Class Hillman and Private 1st Class Bill Zysk shown through. There were men like Carol Reeves and Corporal Rover Aubrey supplying and equipping this band of brothers as they headed to the beaches. 2nd Class Petty Officer, Samuel Barrett, leaping from his landing craft to swim ashore. And 2nd Class Petty Officer Vincent Cordave, was caring for the wounded as bullets whistled by. All of them risked all to win a great victory and all of them by God’s grace are here with us today.

To these and other D-day Veterans among us, I say you honor us with your presence, and I want to assure you that we see you not just as you are, but as you were. In seeing that, we marvel at the courage you showed as young men. You stormed the beaches and faced the shadow of death without fear.

As President Trump said today in Normandy, “For those who fought on D-Day, you are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live. You are the pride of our Nation and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” The audience replied with strong handclaps and a long-standing ovation.

Today, we also think of others, from this very community who were among the ranks in that fateful day. Forty-four boys who had never strayed far from home, mustered out to England, and some to eternity.

They were hometown folk who became national heroes and they will forever be remembered in history as The Bedford Boys.

Since the earliest days of our Republic, Bedford, like every other community in this land, has given it’s finest to defend American land. But for Bedford D-day was different. While most of this town was still asleep in bed, 1st Lieutenant Ray Nance was racing across the sand, dodging mortar rounds and traces of fire and Private 1st Class Dickie Overstreet was nursing his wounds after getting to that wall.

While 50 women worked late in the night at the county Library rolling 9000 bandages, for sons and brothers overseas, Technical Sergeant Ray Stevens had already fought after leading his men onto Omaha Beach. It was only a few days later that his twin brother Roy, found Ray’s dog tags and the cross at a makeshift graveyard not far from the beach.

On D-Day, 20 Bedford Boys stormed Omaha Beach and fell in defense of freedom; such a small town made such a sacrifice seems almost beyond belief.

As the author, Alex Kershaw wrote; “Theirs is the story of one small American town that went to war and died on Omaha Beach.”

To honor their sacrifice and all brave Americans who died on that day, this National D-Day Memorial was constructed here in Bedford as a tribute to all who gave the last full measure of devotion on the longest day.

It is a profound honor for me to stand with you on this day, at this Memorial.

But I think all of you who have gathered here know, the true memorial to the Bedford Boys and all of the courageous Americans who charged the beaches of France 75 years ago today is our freedom…the freedom they fought and sacrificed so much to defend.

So, God bless the Bedford Boys, the heroes and all the 9388 Americans who lie in that quiet field overlooking the beaches that they took. God bless all those who fought and came home to the families and the land they love.

And, on this 75th Anniversary of D-Day, on behalf of a grateful Nation, to those brave Veterans, gathered here who fought so long ago and to all those looking on from glory, we say one more time, Thank you for your service! Thank you for our Freedom! God Bless you! God Bless our Armed Forces and God Bless the United States of America!”

The last flyover was the honorable ‘Missing Man Flyover’ which brought silence throughout the area as Taps was played.

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