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Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13
Bedford is a small town in rural Virginia. Nestled in the Blue Ridge foothills, it’s a tranquil spot to visit and ponder the enormous price this community made in service to our country on June 6, 1944—D-Day. Upon this beautiful town fell proportionately the heaviest share of American losses on that day. For out of the 30 young men from Bedford who had joined the National Guard and were called into service in 1942, 22 were killed in the invasion.
For the “Bedford Boys” who landed on Normandy’s Omaha Beach in 1944, their bonds meant just that—bonds. Bonds that were formed early and often. Their bonds began in the common church pews of Bedford and continued into the halls of the American Legion Posts. Their small town of 3,200 grew more than apple orchards and tobacco in their fields. They also grew the hearts and minds of those who served selflessly and quietly. From the nurturing of loving mothers . . . from the faith of their fathers and forefathers . . . came a generation that understood values, the sacrifice of hard work, freedom and faith.
To honor the memories of this town’s young soldiers, and as a representative symbol of all of our nation’s efforts during Operation Overlord, Congressional support for the creation of a National D-Day Memorial in Bedford culminated with the dedication of this beautiful spot on June 6, 2001.
At the Memorial Dedication Ceremony that day, President George W. Bush said these words to the many gathered:
“You have raised a fitting memorial to D-Day, and you have put it in just the right place—not on a battlefield of war, but in a small Virginia town, a place like so many others that were home to the men and women who helped liberate a continent.
Our presence here, 57 years removed from that event, gives testimony to how much was gained and how much was lost. What was gained that first day was a beach, and then a village, and then a country. And in time, all of Western Europe would be freed from fascism and its armies.
The achievement of Operation Overlord is nearly impossible to overstate, in its consequences for our own lives and the life of the world. Free societies in Europe can be traced to the first footprints on the first beach on June 6, 1944 . . . Fifty-three hundred ships and landing craft; 1,500 tanks; 12,000 airplanes. But in the end, it came down to this: scared and brave kids by the thousands who kept fighting, and kept climbing, and carried out General Eisenhower’s order of the day—nothing short of complete victory. . . What was lost on D-Day we can never measure and never forget.
Bedford has a special place in our history. But there were neighborhoods like these all over America, from the smallest villages to the greatest cities. Somehow they all produced a generation of young men and women who, on a date certain, gathered and advanced as one, and changed the course of history. Whatever it is about American that has given us such citizens, it is the greatest quality we have, and may it never leave us. . .”
At the end of President Bush’s speech, he said “The great enemies of that era have vanished. And it is one of history’s remarkable turns that so many young men from the new world would cross the sea to help liberate the old. Beyond the peaceful beaches and quiet cemeteries lies a Europe whole and free—a continent of democratic governments and people more free and hopeful than ever before. This freedom and these hopes are what the heroes of D-Day fought and died for. And these, in the end, are the greatest monuments of all to the sacrifices made that day . . . God bless America. And God bless the World War II generation.”
This history is all too real for one of our own—we have a Bedford native serving on board our ship. Growing up in Bedford gave our Chief Petty Officer a ton of strength and the value of a community’s banding together to serve each other and protect their children.
He shared with us that some of his fondest memories came from simple things that you just don’t get anywhere else. Values are taught, lessons are learned, and you are safe in your neighborhood because everyone truly knows everyone.
The “Bedford Boys’ were known about, but not talked about often, he said. Perhaps no one outside of that generation understood how special the men and their families really were. Things changed when “The Boys” got national attention—the Memorial, a book, the President’s visit . . . and then the local Army Reserve Unit was called up for Iraq. Stories that people hadn’t talked about in a long time impacted our own shipmate, and he regards the “Bedford Boys” as representing the definition of service and sacrifice.
So on the anniversary of D-Day, we pause to thank you for your part in the fight for freedom that continues even to this day. Knowing freedom instills in us the desire to free others. And knowing the source of our freedoms grants us strength in the face of adversity—both for the “Bedford Boys” and for us here fighting today.
Questions to Share:
1. Is there someone in your family or home town who served in World War II that this chaplain’s evening devotion brings to mind? Spend a moment telling your spouse about them.
2. What do you think future generations will say about those who served in the Global War on Terror?