“The Bedford Boys” by Alex Kershaw is a story about the town of Bedford, Virginia and the men in their National Guard unit who were activated to the Army during World War II. This town suffered more loss of life during D-Day than another U.S. community. Of the approximately 35 men sent to war in Europe, 19 were killed on Omaha beach on D-Day alone. Another three were killed after D-Day.
This book introduces the reader to the majority of the young men involved in the campaign from their joining their local National Guard unit, activation of their unit to the Army (Company A of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division), their training, deployment, D-Day and the days following D-Day during World War II.
Kershaw tries very hard to make the reader to know each gentleman deeply but with so many men involved and the shortness of the book (238 pages) makes this incredibly difficult. Kershaw moves from one man to the next and so on and then back again. He repeats this process continuously so it’s difficult for the reader to try to remember the details. A couple of the men were easier to remember as they were brothers (The Stevens and Hoback brothers for instance).
I also found it interesting that Kershaw highlighted a fact commonly overlooked in most of the World War II books I’ve read so far which is the number of men that had self-inflicted injuries to speed their return home.
“Three weeks after D-Day, Yank were shooting themselves in extraordinary numbers. As he dug in one evening, Stevens tallied up how many men in Company A had received SIWs (self-inflicted wounds) that day: at least five. The next morning, Stevens again found himself before Colonel Canham, this time being questioned about several men’s wounds. ‘If you tell me it was intentional,’ Canham said, ‘I’ll make an example of them.'”
“Stevens told Canham the wounds had not been self-inflicted. ‘I knew he would have had those men shot,’ Stevens later maintained.” (p. 184)
This probably explains why if there were any statistics on this type of injury, the numbers are mostly likely severely flawed.
Where Kershaw does excel is very few books cover what was going on back home with the families and what the families were going through. Kershaw goes into a decent amount of detail of not just what these families went through during the training but the agonizing waiting of word on what happened to their loved ones through the notification. These parts probably tore me up more than any other part of the book because Kershaw does an excellent job of describing their torment and anguish.
This was the first of two books that made me a bit teary eyed (and I’m not a crier) and it was a quick read. I give it 3 and a half stars (again, 4 on Goodreads). I just wish it were a bit longer and covered the personal details of more men.