Company A of Bedford, Virginia

May 27th, 2009

We are in the time of year between Memorial Day—the day we honor those who died in service to our country and the anniversary of D-Day, June 6th, 1944, a time of year when we have war movies 24-hours a day and are reminded of the sacrifices of those who have defended our country and liberated millions from tyranny.  This year June 6th will mark one of those inevitable milestones.  In addition to being the 65th anniversary, we in Virginia should take special note of D-Day because this year marks the first year we will be without any of the Bedford Boys.  Of course it has been a long time since any of them were boys, but in April, Elisha Ray Nance died at age 94.

For those who don't know the story, the Bedford Boys were soldiers in a Virginia Army National Guard unit which took part the D-Day invasion.  As a National Guard unit, Company A of the 116th Infantry of the 29th Infantry Division, then and now the "Blue and Gray" Division was and is made up of soldiers from Virginia, and Maryland.  In this case there were 34 soldiers from the small town of Bedford population about 3,200.  On that day, 19 of them died.  It was the largest loss for a town of its size during the invasion.

German defenders virtually wiped out isolated Company A of Bedford, Virginia, in 15 minutes.  "Of the 200-plus men of the company, only a couple of dozen survived and virtually all of them were wounded," wrote the late historian Stephen Ambrose in his book, "D-Day."

Other soldiers in the 116th, however, survived the German's deadly fire to help secure the beachhead which began the liberation of France and Europe.  Mr Nance once described crawling onto Omaha Beach and facing the corpses of fallen fellow soldiers from Company A.  He was hit in the right foot by enemy fire and suffered a shrapnel wound in one hand.  "The bullets came so close, then, suddenly, when I thought there was no more hope, I looked up into the sky.  I didn't see anything up there.  But I felt something settle over me.  I got this warm feeling.  I felt as if somehow I was going to live."

Nance was the only officer in the company who made it home.  He earned the Bronze Star for valor and Purple Heart for his service and sacrifice to our country on that fateful day.

As you depart here this evening, ask yourself what sacrifices would you be willing to make for the generations of Americans that follow.

Good night, gentlemen.