One town's wrenching WWII sacrifice
The worst event in the history of Bedford, Virginia, occurred 4,000 miles away. In the first minutes of D-Day, 19 Bedford soldiers were slaughtered by Nazi gunfire on the coast of Normandy, France. Two others died before the month was out, and two more were killed before the war ended a year later. No other community suffered a heavier proportionate share of loss than Bedford (its population was 3,200), so it was fitting that the town was selected to be home of the National D-Day Memorial, dedicated two years ago. Now, with the publication of Alex Kershaw's <B>The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice</B>, their story is told in more detail than ever before.
The adage that no military plan survives contact with the enemy was demonstrated at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, when the invasion at Omaha Beach began. Partly because Allied bombardments had failed to eliminate or effectively blunt the Nazi machine-gun and mortar crews, the Bedford boys of Company A of the 29th Infantry Division's 116th Infantry Regiment never had a chance. The author takes us from their local National Guard duty to their intensive training in England, to the battlefield in France and then to their survivors back in Bedford. The whole world knew immediately about the invasion, of course, but no one at home had details. Mail from the slain soldiers ceased. After a month, one family received a War Department telegram ("I am saddened to inform you . . . "). Then, similar telegrams arrived, one after another, filling the small town with grief. As he recounts the families' reactions then and their recollections today, the author makes no attempt to be melodramatic; he does not have to.
Other books by Kershaw are <I>Jack London: A Life and Blood and Champagne</I>, detailing the life of Robert Capa, the only photographer to cover the first-wave assault on Omaha Beach. Capa excelled in recording the cruelty of war with his camera; in <B>The Bedford Boys</B>, Kershaw has done the same thing with his pen.
<I>Ex-newsman Alan Prince lectures at the University of Miami.</I>