Bedford Boys Homefront Tour
Follow the footsteps of the Bedford Boys and one community's ultimate sacrifice. Learn about the town's contribution to World War II, and the role of it's sons in the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Like most throughout the nation, Bedford's factories converted to wartime production during World War II. This factory, formerly Piedmont Label, opened in 1919 and is Bedford's oldest factory in continuous operation. Rubatex began making insulation for aircraft and submarines and hoses for gas masks. Hampton Looms produced woolen uniforms while Belding Hemingway made rayon thread for parachutes. The Bedford Pulp and Paper Company also contributed to the war effort making cardboard boxes and pallets for shipping, as well as powder for firing guns.
This traditional 1940s diner serviced the community and the nearby train station. Its history dates to the 1930s as a one-room hot dog stand. By the time World War II started, the current building was in place and the locals would congregate here before and after shifts at nearby factories, while travelers form the passenger depot would take the two-minute walk to grab a bite between trains. The Bedford Boys would have certainly known this familiar haunt and carried fond memories of it into the war.
As in other towns, Bedford's railroad station was the hub of community life. Transportation of passengers, freight and mail, from the railways' inception through World War II, meant that such railroad stations were a vital part of both the local and national economy. Built in 1881, the station remained in service until 1971. WWII found the station participating in the transportation of troops, supplies and ammunition. The Bedford Boys left for service from this very station in February 1941, while the nation was still at peace. Little could they know the role in history they would play.
On February 7, 1941, the Bedford Boys attended a dance and farewell party where many of them had attended high school. For many, it would be the last time they would walk through its halls. The class of 1944 erected a plaque outside of the school to those who attended the high school and were killed in World War II.
Known as Green's Drug Store during World War II, this corner was a gathering place for locals. Tucked away in the back of the drug store behind a wooden booth was a small Western Union telegraph office. Twenty-one year-old Elizabeth Teass was manning the teletype machine on July 16, 1944 when she was stunned to receive a series of telegrams with the words "The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret...." The teletype machine continued with one message after another. The community of Bedford would be forever changed. Today, the Bedford Boys Tribute Center is located here with belongings from the Bedford Boys, along with the original teletype machine that processed the telegrams.
In February 1941, Company A of the 116th Regiment, Virginia National Guard, kissed mothers and girlfriends goodbye and filed onto a waiting train at Bedford's depot. By the end of the year, America was at war, and the Bedford Boys were in it for the duration. Nineteen men from Co. A, and another Bedford Boy from Company F, perished on the beaches of Normandy. The loss of 20 young men was the highest per capita loss of any community in the United States. Here in Centertown Plaza, read about the significance of this location with Betty Wilkes, wife to one of the Bedford Boys.
In 1954, ten years after the Normandy invasion, the Bedford community came together to dedicate a monument to its lost sons. The stone, located outside of Bedford's courthouse, reads, "Erected by the Parker-Hoback Post, 29th Division Association, in memory of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, who gave their lives in preparation for and the participation in the Normandy invasion and later battles of World War II." The stone on which the monument appears was secured from Vierville-Sur-Mer on Normandy Beach and was a gift of the Republic of France.
The museum is located in a beautiful 1895 former Masonic Lodge in downtown Bedford. The three floors of displays give a glimpse into the rich history of Bedford County, dating back to prior to the American Revolution. On the second floor, one can find an exhibit devoted to the Bedford Boys, as well as exhibits related to World War II history in Bedford County.