The Last of the Bedford Boys
the Sad Sad Story of Company A, 1st Battalion,
116th Infantry Brigade, 29th Infantry
When twin brothers Roy and Ray Stevens of Bedford, Virginia
joined Company A, First Battalion, 116th Infantry of the Twenty
NInth Infantry Division in 1938, they could not know that their
decision would completely destroy their dream of one day owning a
Joining the hometown National Guard unit simply meant they would
be receiving thirty dollars per month from the U.S. government
for playing soldier one night a week and two weeks every summer.
Times were hard in the small farming community of Bedford,
population three thousand, as Roosevelt's New Deal had not yet
lifted them out of the Great Depression. Oh sure, it was possible
that they could be called to active duty but they didn't think
much about it. Besides, if that happened at least they'd go
together; which is exactly what happened on February 18, 1941, as
the Bedford Boys found themselves on a train headed for Fort
The Twenty Ninth was activated, initially for twelve months, but
Captain Taylor Fellers, Commanding Officer of Company A, knew the
twelve month period was not set in stone. The world was an
increasingly dangerous place and he thought the Bedford Boys best
be ready for anything. He was determined that Company A would be
the equal of any and he was equally determined that his boys not
be ridiculed by the Regular Army guys who generally looked down
their noses at National Guardsmen, not seeing them as real
Patriotism played a part in Ray Nance joining the Guard in 1933,
but the tobacco farmer admits that thirty a month was also an
enticement. Today, he's quick to say – "that was cash
money." Nance had been sent to Richmond for Officers training and
was a Second Lieutenant when Company A was activated. He knew all
the Bedford Boys and felt keenly his responsibility to them. The
Twenty Ninth was known as the Blue/Grey Division,
composed of men from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia and soon
after his arrival at Meade, Nance would have men he didn't know
assigned to his platoon. He was determined that these new men
would blend well and he took a personal interest in them also. On
a personal note, Nance knew that Taylor Fellers was very strict
and he was equally determined not to let him down.
Master Sergeant John Wilkes, A big bear of a man had proven
himself an able soldier and rose quickly to Company First
Sergeant. Wilkes demanded instant obedience and tolerated no
slackers. But underneath, his young wife Bettie knew he was
sensitive and passionate. During his time stateside Bettie vowed
to be with John as much as possible, a vow she kept, even
traveling to Florida with other wives when the Twenty Ninth went
Earl Newcomb had learned to cook in a Civilian Conservation Corps
(CCC) camp, so when he joined Company A in 1934, it seemed a
natural transition to Mess Sergeant. Earl had made a vow too, get
hot food to Company A whenever humanly possible.
Allen Huddleston had been a Soda Jerk at one of two Bedford Drug
stores before joining Company A just before they left for Fort
Meade. "I knew the draft was coming so I thought if I was going
to war, I'd rather go with people I knew." At Meade the Bedford
Boys got a taste of what real soldiering was all about. They
could soon strip their M1s blindfolded and those who didn't know
soon learned about military etiquette or else they'd be facing an
Article 15 – two hours of extra duty. They went on
maneuvers twice, to North Carolina and Florida, where they used
new radios and motorized vehicles while learning how to attack
and enemy. Also while at Meade they learned about the advantages
of central heating and running water, something most Bedford Boys
had never had.
While the longest pass was two days, and Bedford was seven hours
away, the boys would find a way to get there and spend some time
with family, wives and girlfriends. If they couldn't get home,
the home folk, especially wives, would find a way to get to them.
But by the summer of '41 boredom began to set in and grousing
began. If there was no war, why did they have to be away from
home? What was this army stuff all about anyway? Come December 7,
1941, they would find out.
On that day, the Twenty Niners were in North Carolina,
alternately cursing the ice and then the mud. Roy Stevens
remembers how Pearl Harbor changed attitudes – "I didn't
even know where Pearl Harbor was but I was mad. We'd slug back a
beer, and vow to whup 'em good and still be home for Christmas."
Not likely, especially since on that day, twelve months became
for the duration.
For the next ten months, the Bedford Boys and their comrades in
the Twenty Ninth trained and at days end the conversation would
always get around to what part they would play in this war. If
we're supposed to fight, why aren't we fighting? Not everyone was
so eager. Sergeant Earl Parker had just found out his wife was
pregnant with their first child. Parker was in no hurry to leave
It's an old axiom that it takes the army a while to move but then
it moves fast. It wouldn't be long, September 1942 to be exact
when the Blue/Grey Division found themselves on the way to Camp
Kilmer, New Jersey. Now they knew they were on the way to Europe.
While they wanted to slap the Japs, the Germans would have to do.
Now the Bedford Boys wondered – how long?
Security was tight at Kilmer and try as they might, the Bedford
wives who wanted one last glimpse of their husbands found it very
difficult. Somehow, Ray Stevens and a buddy wrangled a pass to DC
to visit his buddy's sister. It was here that Ray, for the first
time declared that if he went to war he wouldn't come back.
Come September 26, 1942 and the Twenty niners were bound for
Europe either on the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth, luxury
liners in civilian life but not now. They were amazed at the
Spartan-like existence on these once opulent vessels; but of
course they were carrying seven thousand men each plus crew.
Company A would not even be to England before the men got a taste
of what it was like to see death close up.
The Queen Mary was under orders to stop for nothing and for that
reason could not stop for survivors when she hit one of the
escort ships, Curacoa, splitting her completely in two. Allen
Huddleston remembers the horror. "I was lying on my bunk when I
felt a slight thud. I looked out a porthole, just in time to see
half a ship sinking. We didn't even slow down." The Twenty Niners
were shocked to see hundreds of men drowning with no effort to
rescue them. So this is what war was like. We are all expendable
they thought. Like another even more serious incident at a
training area called Slapton Sands, where 800 GI's died , the
Curacoa accident was hushed up. Officers and men were told to say
nothing and like the good soldiers they were, they obeyed.
The Twenty Ninth arrived in England on a typical English, gray,
cold, and rainy day. They arrived at their new quarters, Tidworth
Barracks on October 4th, 1942; a freezing cold place heated by
two pot bellied stoves which were extinguished at lights out.
Their straw mattresses soon produced a Scabies epidemic. After
they finished scratching Company A began twenty months of
intensive training, a record unmatched by any other Infantry
unit. They were going to be part of something big.
At the time the Twenty Ninth Commander was Major General Leonard
Gerow. Gerow was a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute
and knew the West Pointers back in Washington had many doubts
about the mostly National Guard soldiers in his command. Gerow
was determined that his boys would measure up and the ones who
couldn't would be reassigned.
Taylor Fellers understood what Gerow was trying to do. Weed out
the guys who couldn't hack it. Better to find out now then later
when it might cost lives. And there were some who could not
measure up. Lugging around a hundred pound barracks bag was too
much for some, not to mention running a hundred yards in combat
boots in twelve seconds. Nor could they do thirty five pushups,
ten chin-ups, sprint through an obstacle course, then follow that
with deadly accurate fire with a .45 automatic, and M1 Rifle or a
BAR. (Browning Automatic Rifle) They were not less brave, just
less physically able. But Roy Stevens points out that "some men
were transferred because of exceptional stamina, to Ranger and
Paratrooper units, and some were sent to Officer Candidate
The winter of 1942-43 was the coldest on record in England, but
the training never slackened. Twenty five mile marches in large
overcoats were the norm. "You'd have icicles on the outside and
be sweating like crazy on the inside," remembers one Twenty
Come spring of '43 and the Bedford Boys were camping out on the
hated moors. "You couldn't stay dry," says Allen Huddleston. But
Captain Fellers never let up. Huddleston goes on, "One time we
had to set up our pup tents in a driving rain. Captain Fellers
kicked a bunch of them down because they weren't in perfect
alignment. Guys were still in them."
Roy Stevens knew Taylor Fellers better than anyone, especially
the good time guy under the tough exterior. "Sometimes, on a long
march, I'd go up and walk beside him and start talking about the
good days back home. I could really get him going. Of course this
was always out of earshot."
But even men training for the greatest military venture of all
time (by this time their was plenty of talk about what they were
being trained for) had to have some play time and nobody can play
like an American GI. They'd visit the pub, imbibe too much, be
carried to their barracks, wake up the next morning with a
terrible hangover, vowing never to be so foolish again, a vow
that would last till the next pub visit.
A lot of resentment existed among English soldiers who didn't
have the pocketbook to compete with the Americans when it came to
courting English women. This led to the popular saying –
the American GI is over sexed, over paid, and over here.
Another characteristic of the American GI is that no matter how
tough it gets he will never lose his sense of humor. After a year
and a half in England, the Twenty Niners were anxious to get on
with the job and go home. Once a traveling Evangelist had a huge
sign on his tent that read: WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY? A GI
had scrawled underneath – IN ENGLAND!
On occasion too, the GI's could wax poetic. About the hated moors
I WANT TO GO AGAIN TO THE MOORS
TO FOLLOW THEIR WINDING TRAILS
TO STAND AGAIN ON THEIR LONELY SLOPES
IN THE COLD AND THE WIND AND THE GALES
OH, I'LL GO OUT TO THE MOORS AGAIN
BUT MIND ME AND MARK ME WELL
I'LL CARRY ENOUGH EXPLOSIVES
TO BLOW THE PLACE TO HELL.
Not all Twenty Niners were so anxious to leave England. There had
been some transfers in from the First Division (THE BIG RED ONE)
who'd experienced combat in North Africa. They'd had a taste of
battle and were not anxious to repeat the experience.
As for Bedford Boy, Earl Parker who'd just become the father of a
beautiful baby girl named, Danny, he declared he would gladly
stay in England if it kept him from assaulting a beach.
It was July of 1943, when a spit and polish West Pointer named
Charles H. Gerhardt replaced General Gerow as commander of the
Twenty Ninth. Along with his fearsome reputation came the
information that he had little regard for National Guardsmen. He
then shocked everyone by granting three day passes. It was the
lull before the storm.
Gerhardt had waited twenty years for this chance and he wasn't
going to blow it. The honey moon lasted a few weeks and then
Uncle Charley began to crack the whip. He appeared
before the Twenty Niners in Pattonesque attire and announced that
everyone, enlisted and officer alike would hence forth shave
clean every day, in cold water if necessary. All vehicles would
be polished and as spotless as uniforms. And Uncle
Charley's biggest hang-up – chin straps would be
fastened at all times. He also had a problem with familiarity. If
someone got too close, he'd bark – "that's far enough!"
Gerhardt was hated by many but he didn't care. He'd already been
informed that the Twenty Ninth would spearhead the greatest land
invasion in history and he would not fail. It was this attitude
that undoubtedly brought victory but would identify Uncle
Charley as the General with three divisions, one in the
field, one in the hospital, and one in the cemetery.
To give his men a feeling that they were special he came up with
an inspiring battle cry – Twenty Nine Let's Go! Before
World War Two was over, other units who'd tired of Gerhardt's
battle cry, would reply – "Twenty Nine Go Ahead!" It was
September of 1943 when Taylor Fellers told Ray Nance that Company
A would probably be chosen as part of a spearhead that would
assault the coast of France. Everything was hush hush but most
caught on as soon as they began training on how to land on a
heavily defended beach. "We had an important job to do and that's
when the real work began." The troops got a little nervous when
everyone, from Uncle Charley on down had to take
swimming lessons. But not everyone learned how to swim.
The closer Taylor Fellers got to Operation Overlord, better known
as D Day, the less confident he became. He listened with doubting
ears as the planners said the landing would be a snap. Heavy
bombers would take out the enemy pillboxes, and in so doing
create ready made foxholes on the beach. Demolition experts would
destroy all of Erwin Rommels carefully placed mines and other
defenses. The Battleship Texas would obliterate whatever the
bombers missed, and LCT's (Landing Craft Tanks) adorned with
special flotation devices would hit the beach before the infantry
and give covering fire.
Fellers listened and doubted even more. For everything to go as
planned would take a minor miracle. At one meeting, though only a
captain, he spoke up. "Sir, I could take one BAR and hold that
beach." He got no reply. As he and Ray Nance left the meeting,
Fellers said, "we'll all be killed Ray."
The 116th Infantry of which Company A was a part would be
assaulting a beach code named Omaha. They were already being
referred to as the suicide wave.
Dwight Eisenhower had originally scheduled Overlord for the 5th
of June, but bad weather postponed the landing to June 6, 1944.
The weather was better but there was considerable cloud cover and
the English Channel was choppy.
Taylor Fellers had plenty of company in his opinion. Some higher
ranking officers believed the landing should be at night, which
would give an element of surprise. One officer who'd served in
the Pacific even questioned the landing craft to be used. The
LCA's (Landing Craft Assault) would come to a stop as soon as
they hit beach. Landing craft with treads which would continue as
they hit land would be better and give more protection. He was
essentially told to mind his own business, this was the Europe
and they would do things their way. The landing craft would be
LCA's and the first wave would hit the beach at 6:30 AM.
As D Day approached, the already anxious men of Company A had
their anxiety increased when Taylor Fellers came down with a bad
sinus infection and was hospitalized. They needn't have worried.
When they lined up to board the HMS Javelin, Fellers was there.
"I trained you and I've come to die with you if that's what it
takes." Roy Stevens says, "It lifted our spirits to have our
Charles Gerhardt was standing on the dock as the Twenty Niners
boarded. "Are you ready men?" Bedford Boy, Bedford Hoback who was
on the same LCA as his brother Raymond, said: "Yes sir, we're
The Javelin moved out in to the Channel and Roy and Ray Stevens
stood at the rail with Earl Parker. Parker took the photo of his
daughter Danny out of his pocket and said, "If I could see her
just once, I wouldn't mind dying."
Twelve miles from Omaha, the troops stepped off the Empire
Javelin, and into their LCA's. Roy was on a separate craft than
Ray and Roy was still bothered by Ray's feeling of impending
death. Roy had refused to shake his brother's hand on the ship
because he knew Ray saw it as their final contact. "I'll shake
your hand later, up at the crossroads above the beach sometime
later this morning." Ray offered his hand again and again Roy
As he sat hunkered down in LCA 911, Stevens looked over at twenty
year old VMI graduate, Lieutenant Edward Gearing, a born leader,
so young, yet so competent.
Over in LCA 910, English Sub-Lieutenant Jimmy Green stood beside
Taylor Fellers. Green couldn't help but feel that the sixty
pounds each Twenty Niner was carrying would be too much weight in
deep water. Suddenly, Green winced as the stern of 910 collided
with 911. There didn't appear to be any damage, but a short time
later his stoker said 910 was taking on water. Green decided to
go ahead, depending on the pumps to keep them afloat. His orders
were to get these men to Omaha by 6:30AM.
As they headed inland they didn't know that the bombers had
missed their mark completely. Because of cloud cover, the pilots,
fearful of hitting their own men, had dropped their bombs far
inland, killing some French civilians and cows, but no Germans.
There would be no ready made foxholes.
To make matters worse, the LCT's, their flotation devices
inadequate in the choppy water, were either falling behind or
sinking. They would give no covering fire. Captain Fellers knew
what this meant but when asked by Jimmy Green if the LCA's could
go ahead of the tanks, he replied, "Yes, we must get there on
Now the only help to the men landing on Omaha Beach would come
from the Battleship Texas, which began firing shells and rockets
toward the beach. Jimmy Green got a sinking feeling as he watched
the rockets fall harmlessly in the water. Sixty two years later,
there is still a debate whether the shells from the Texas did any
damage to the Germans.
During an interview with Roy Stevens in his living room on August
10, 2006, Stevens was asked if a kind of Murphy's Law applied to
D Day. He replied, "yes, battles never go as planned."
At 6:00AM, Ray Nance who was scheduled to land at 7:30 peered
through a slot in his LCA, remembering to keep his head down. His
job would be to set up a command post, so when Radio man and
Bedford Boy John Clifton told him the antennae was broken on the
radio, Nance told him to keep it and they'd repair it on the
In LCA 11, Roy Stevens said a prayer for himself and his
comrades, most of whom were so seasick they didn't care whether
they lived or died. Then, suddenly, their craft began to sink
beneath them. They tried bailing with helmets but it was too
little, too late and soon everybody was in the water. Stevens
could barely swim and his sixty pounds began to drag him under.
Luckily Bedford Boy Clyde Powers was a good swimmer and kept
Stevens from drowning. While bobbing in the water, they heard
their Radio Operator announce that he was drowning. They looked
around and the man was gone. Lieutenant Gearing, the born to
soldier twenty year old saved a couple of men by swimming to them
and cutting their packs off. Their situation seemed hopeless
until Jimmy Green, passing them in LCA 911 told them to hang on
and he'd pick them up on the way back. Hearing this, Gearing told
Roy Stevens he was in charge and to keep talking and make sure
the men stayed together. With that, Gearing started swimming
toward the beach. The men in the water said they knew Stevens
would keep them and himself alive because he was concerned about
his brother. Jimmy Green kept his promise and soon those who had
survived the sinking were back on the Javelin. They would return
to England, be rested refitted, then sent back to Omaha Beach.
LCA 10 touched down on time, thirty yards from sure. Taylor
Fellers thanked Jimmy Green for getting them in. Fellers had
asked Green to give him some covering fire when they got in the
water because, "My men are National Guard troops and have never
been in combat." As much as Green wanted to honor the request, he
couldn't – the water was just too rough. Green watched as
Fellers and his men, which included Bedford boys and brothers
Raymond and Bedford Hoback walk through the water with their
weapons held high. Upon reaching the beach they lay prone fifty
yards from their objective, the D1 Vierville draw. As they stood
up to run to their objective the Germans opened up. Within
seconds Taylor Fellers, husband, son, brother and leader of men
along with the twenty nine soldiers in his LCA lay dead.
The LCA containing Master Sergeant John Wilkes experienced the
same withering fire but he and some of his men miraculously made
it to the beach. The last they saw of him Wilkes was firing his
M1 at a German emplacement. He would be found later, a bullet
through his forehead. Bette's passionate, sensitive man would not
be coming home. Nor would Earl Parker, the Bedford Boy who said
he would gladly die if he could see his daughter Danny just one
time. His body was never found.
Lieutenant Ray Nance remembers that when his LCA got to the
beach, the ramp wouldn't go down. "GET IT DOWN!", he said,
knowing the Germans would be keying in on the craft. Finally the
ramp went down and Nance plowed straight ahead. When he looked
around no one was behind him. The Germans had annihilated most of
his men in an instant. As he got closer to the beach he saw the
body of Bedford Hoback. (Raymond Hoback's body was never found)
Then he saw the bodies of two more Bedford Boys. Nance was
shocked by the carnage. He'd trained these good men, saw them
grow as soldiers. "I felt responsible for them, every last one.
They were the finest soldiers I ever saw."
Then, Nance collected himself. He had a job to do. he started to
craw toward a cliff, the only available cover. Suddenly a machine
gun bullet tore away part of his heel and blood spurted. It was
then that Nance had the first of two D Day experiences he'd never
forget. "Just as I was about to give up hope I looked up in the
sky, which had a rosy appearance. A warm feeling came over me and
I knew I was going to live."
A short time later Nance had his second experience. "An
immaculately dressed Navy Corpsman leaned over me and began
dressing my wound. He gave me a shot of morphine, said 'this is
worse then Salerno, good luck to you'. Then he was gone." When
Nance told this story people told him he was hallucinating, no
one could look that good after coming in on an LCA. But Nance had
his bandaged foot to prove his story. Today he feels that if his
Navy Corpsman was heaven-sent, that's okay with him.
Later in what became The Longest Day, a Sergeant came by and
carried Nance to an aid station. "He put me down and I noticed
what looked like a pie plate. I started to put my hand on it. The
Sergeant shouted – 'don't touch it'." Nance had nearly put
his hand on a German mine.
Whether Ray Nance's Navy Corpsman was real or not, there was
another angel of mercy on Omaha that day. His name was Cecil
Breeden, Company A's Medic. He was credited with saving many
lives and would continue to do so all the way to Germany. Breeden
was not an angel but he may have been under God's special care
since he never got a scratch of his own. Many thought the Iowan
deserved the Medal of Honor but he never received it.
On June 11th, the men who survived the sinking of LCA 911 landed
on Omaha Beach. The Germans who initially thought they had
repelled the landing had either retreated, surrendered, or died
as a result of the inexorable military might displayed by the
allies. As put by one German officer, Operation Overlord, was an
example of how a rich man makes war. It could be said that D Day
was the beginning of the end for Hitler and his war machine. But
there would be over ten months more of fighting and dying.
Roy Stevens was intent on finding his brother. The first thing he
and Clyde Powers did (Powers also had a brother in another LCA)
was visit the cemetery. Stevens walked to the section of the
cemetery that had names starting with S. He scraped some mud from
one dog tag hanging from a cross and saw that it belonged to his
twin brother Ray. At the same time, Powers found his brother
Jack. "We just stood and looked at each other." Finally Stevens
said, "Come on Clyde, let's get the men who did this." As Roy
Stevens left the cemetery, one thought came to mind. "Why didn't
I shake his hand?" As things turned out, the Powers and Stevens
families would at least have one son return from war. The Hoback
family had lost both sons.
In all, nineteen Bedford Boys died on June 6, 1944. Three would
be killed later. No other community in the United States suffered
such a loss. Only ten percent of A Company had survived the
landing without being killed or wounded. They truly were the
Roy Stevens vowed to kill one German for each of his buddies. On
June thirteenth, he volunteered to lead a patrol, then regretted
his decision. "At that moment I looked in the bottom of my
foxhole and saw the face of Jesus Christ. He said, 'go ahead,
you'll come back'." Stevens survived the patrol. "I'd come back
just like Jesus said I would. Right then and there I prayed and
made a deal with God: if You let me get home, I'll be Your
Men react differently to tragedy. Clyde Powers mourned while Roy
Stevens wanted revenge. He went on other dangerous patrols and
even volunteered to take messages to artillery units. Word got
around that he had a death wish, which led to a reprimand from
his CO. "You take it easy. it's going to take all of us to win
Roy Stevens combat time came to an end on June 30th when a
bouncing betty mine shredded him with ball bearings. While lying
in sick bay, he noticed he was lying next to men deemed too far
gone. He grabbed the smock of a passing nurse. "I'm not here to
die, I just need a little help." The nurse replied, "If you let
go of me I'll see what I can do." Surgery saved Stevens life and
he was flown to a hospital in England on July 30th.
While in the hospital he wrote a poem about Ray and included it
in a letter to his mother:
Twin brother farewell
I'll never forget that morning
It was the sixth of June
I said farewell to brother
Didn't think it would be so soon
I had prayed for our future
That wonderful place called home
But a sinner's prayer wasn't answered
Now I'LL have to go there alone
Oh brother I think of you
All through the sleepless night
Dear Lord, he took you from me
And I can't believe it was right
This world is so unfriendly
To kill now is a sin
To walk that long narrow road
It can't be done without him
Dear Mother, I know your worries
This is an awful fight
To lose my only twin brother
And suffer the rest of my life
Now fellows take my warning
Believe it from start to end
If you ever have a twin brother
Don't go to the battle with him
This poem now rests on the wall of Roy Stevens Bedford Home.
Bedford Boy Allen Huddleston missed the D Day landing due to
suffering a broken ankle in training. Of his broken ankle he
says, "I guess I was just lucky."
Huddleston would rejoin Company A on the 28th of August. He
recognized no one. "My first day somebody asked me if I knew Joe
Parker. I said yes. He said, well he was killed yesterday." Like
the Hoback family, the Parker family would lose both sons.
Huddleston goes on to say that Mess Sergeant Earl Newcomb was
still with Company A, "but I never saw him."
Newcomb would continue to make sure the boys of Company A had hot
chow till the end of the war. Then he would come home to Bedford.
Allen Huddleston would survive in combat until September 30, when
a severe shoulder wound would take him out of action. He still
remembers the cumbersome wire brace he wore for several months.
"I complained but they told me if they put a cast on it they
couldn't tell if it was bleeding." Huddleston still gets forty
When families back in Bedford got news of the D Day landing, they
huddled around their radios. They had no way of knowing whether
their men had been involved in the landing because mail was
heavily censored, but they suspected this was the reason Company
A was in England for such a long time. News of the invasion
filled them with renewed vigor. Wives and mothers who had rolled
thousands of bandages rolled even more, filled with the hope that
their sons and husbands would soon be home. They could not know
that nineteen of the Bedford Boys already lay in foreign graves
or floated lifelessly off the coast of France. The question is
still being asked – why did it take so long to tell us?
On July 4th, 1944, the Bedford Bulletin reported that Company A
had been commended for their actions on D Day – but still,
no news about individual Bedford Boys. It was about this time
that letters written to the men came back as undeliverable.
Bette Wilkes would be the first to get some news, a month after D
Day, and it was much less than official. She was standing on a
street corner when called to by a woman across the street.
"Bette, did you hear about John?" Then the woman crossed the
street – "he was killed." Bette rushed home in a state of
shock. Family tried to convince her that surely the government
would have told her if anything had happened. Bette Wilkes never
revealed the name of the bearer of bad tidings.
Another letter followed to the Fellers family that Taylor had
been killed, but still no word from the Army. According to Helen
Stevens, "it was like waiting for an earthquake."
On July 17th, twenty one year old Elizabeth Teass reported to her
job at Green's drugstore where she was the Western Union
Operator. She switched on her teletype machine and sounded a bell
heard in Roanoke twenty-five miles away. She typed the words,
GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. BEDFORD. Words came chattering back. GOOD
MORNING. GO AHEAD. ROANOKE. WE HAVE CASUALTIES. Teass watched as
one telegram, then two, then three came through. She waited for
it to stop but it didn't, not for a long time. Teass was in
shock, why so many? But she knew her job. The families must be
the first to know.
Today, Elizabeth Teass is somewhat embittered because some have
suggested she handed out the telegrams willy nilly for delivery.
"Mr. Frank Thomas, an employee of the drug store usually
delivered telegrams in town, so he took some. But some of the
families lived outside town. Mr. Carder, the Undertaker delivered
one of these. Sheriff Jim Marshall took one and so did Doctor
Rucker. Then, Mr. Roy Israel who operated the town taxi service
told me not to hand out anymore, that he would deliver the rest.
Each telegram that was delivered had to have a verification of
delivery slip come back. Bedford was one quiet little town,
everyone's heart was broken."
Roy Stevens may have said it best. "A veil of tears hung over
There could not possibly be a more appropriate place for the
National D Day Memorial that was dedicated on June 6th, 2001.
Of the thirty five Bedford Boys who went away to war, thirteen
came home. Of those, four are still living in Bedford, Virginia.
Roy Stevens lives quietly with his wife, Helen. He returned to
Omaha Beach in June of '94, the fiftieth anniversary of the
landing. He played an active role in the establishment of the D
Day Memorial in 2001.
Ray Nance and his wife, Alpha both have a military history as
Alpha was an Army Nurse. Ray is most proud that he reestablished
Company A in 1948. He thought it would be a good morale booster
and it was as young men flocked to join. The men of Company A
went to war again in 2004 in Afghanistan. This time all the
Bedford Boys came home. Perhaps God had decided that Bedford had
Allen Huddleston is a widower and still subscribes to the
magazine, The Twenty Niner. When he came home he operated a photo
shop and is now a talented painter. Others give Huddleston credit
for writing the inscription on the 1954 monument to the Bedford
Boys. But he modestly says, "it was a group effort."
Earl Newcomb is still proud of his ability to get hot food to his
comrades, no matter the situation. He narrowly missed being
assigned to the Pacific theater when he came home in 1945. The
Atom bomb assured he would not have to go.
One question that has always been debated is why Company A was
chosen to go in with the first wave. General Gerhardt explained
it this way when he came to Bedford to dedicate the 1954
memorial. Why was the 116th Infantry picked for that particular
job? Because they showed the characteristics necessary on that
particular day. Who were these boys? The record of the Twenty
Ninth goes back to 1620, through the regimental history of
Virginia troops, and their record has been unequalled. Those boys
were the descendants of those who fought with Jackson, Lee, and
But perhaps there is a simpler explanation; that the commanders
knew the type of soldiers they were sending would carry out their
orders, no matter what; that though they feared the dragon, they
would not hesitate to march into the mouth of the dragon if that
was their part of the mission. Nothing typifies this better than
Taylor Fellers' reply to Jimmy Green when Green asked if it was
okay to go in before the tanks. "Yes, we must get there on time."
The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw
Beyond the Beachhead by Joseph Balkowski
29 Let's Go! A History of the Twenty Ninth Division
June 6, 1944, The Voices Of D Day
tape-recorded interviews with Roy Stevens, Ray Nance, and Allen
by Don Haines
... who is a U.S. Army Cold War veteran, American Legion Post 191
chaplain, a retired Registered Nurse, and freelance writer; whose
work has previously appeared in this magazine as well as in
World War Two History, and many other