Bedford remembers the day of the first telegraph from Normandy

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BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ) — A typical conversation in front of Green's drug store in 1944 may have included something along the lines of: "Hello, don't forget to buy your bonds today."

On June 6th, approximately 156,000 allied troops stormed Normandy's beaches on D-Day. Six weeks later, the Town of Bedford changed forever with just 5 words from a telegram that read: "Good morning, we have casualties."

"75 years ago, July the 17th, the day that Bedford fell on her knees," said Kenneth Parker, one of the directors of the Company A Bedford Boys Tribute Center.

There were 35 men that went to Normandy from Bedford. Nineteen died, leaving the town with the tragic label of the highest per capita loss in America on D-Day.

The town found out about 11 of those deaths on the 17th of July.

"The youngest one was just about to turn 21 and the oldest was 30," said Linda Parker, Kenneth's husband and co-director.

Marguerite Cottrell remembers the day the Western Union telegram was delivered to her family farm as her mother was hanging clothes on the line to dry.

Her mother read it, sat down and wept.

"I knew something bad had happened," said Cottrell, who was 4. She remembers her mother telling her: "Well, little Jack has gone to heaven. I don't know what we're going to do."

All over the little town, similar telegrams were delivered with the same opening line expressing the secretary of war's "deep regret" that a loved one was killed or missing.

The dead were country boys who came of age during the Depression and joined the National Guard before the war for extra income and uniforms that local girls thought looked sharp, according to author Alex Kershaw's 2003 best-seller "The Bedford Boys."

Frank Draper and Elmere Wright were local baseball standouts. Wallace Carter worked at the town's pool hall. Earl Parker left behind a young bride and a daughter he never got to meet. Twins Ray and Roy Stevens hoped to run a farm after the war, but only Roy survived.

Their time in combat was short. Among the first waves in the assault on Omaha Beach, Bedford's soldiers were wiped out by Nazi machine guns and mortars within minutes after their landing craft hit the sand.

"They were waiting for us, the minute the ramp went down, they opened up," said Elisha Ray Nance, one of the few Bedford Boys who survived that deadly beach landing, in comments recorded in "Bedford Goes to War," a book by local historian James Morrison.

Now, Green's Drug Store is a museum of sorts with war memorabilia - it's also known as the Company A Bedford Boys Tribute Center and exists because of the Parkers. The store was where Bedford Boys had hung out as high schoolers and their wives and girlfriends exchanged gossip and news during the war.

"I think for my husband and I, this is the best thing we've ever done in our long long lives. We just feel honored and humbled to be able to do this," said Linda.

D-Day wasn't just one day. Neither was the 17th.

"Enough hasn't been written about it, if you will. This wasn't just one bad day in Green's drug store. It continued the whole week," said Kenneth.

One by one, the names came back. The families grieved. The town grieved.

In some ways, grief will always exist. But so will thankfulness.

For the past five years, the Bedford International Alliance has held a Memorial Day service at the cemetery where eight of the Bedford Boys are buried.