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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Our D-Day Fallen: Pvt. Bedford and Sgt. Raymond Hoback

Bedford and Raymond Hoback were one of 33 sets of brothers fighting together on the beaches during D-Day, June 6, 1944.  Of the 33 sets of brothers, three sets were from Bedford (the Stevens twins and the Powers brothers were also from Bedford) and part of Company A, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.  The story of the Hoback brothers was one of the first I heard that put a “face” to the history.  I was in the education tent with about 60 students from a North Carolina high school who were working on a special project about Bedford and D-Day.  I had only been at the Memorial for a few months at that point and this was the first time I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Lucille Hoback Boggess, sister of Bedford and Raymond, and hear their personal story.  You could have heard a pin drop as everyone hung on to what Mrs. Boggess had to say about her brothers, and all were keen on seeing some of the personal belongings she had brought to share with the group.    

It is their story that I tell to the children when they come to visit the Memorial for a field trip; their story that I share when talking to guests about the ultimate sacrifice paid by over 4,000 men on D-Day.  

It is their story that I want to share with you today through the words of Mrs. Boggess. 

Mrs. Lucille Boggess
My two brothers, Bedford and Raymond, both joined the National Guard, but the attraction was not financial.  The thing that drew them – drew Bedford anyway – was the idea of service.  He believed in it.  I should tell you that when Bedford joined the National Guard he was no boy.  He found military service to be something he wanted to do – not full time, of course, but once every few days it felt pretty good.  I think he liked the order the military represented, its discipline, teamwork, and fellowship.  Raymond’s motivation may not have been quite so well informed, but I must tell you that he too, was a man.  Although four years younger than Bedford, he was not kid, but he did have a kid brother’s admiration of his older brother, and that is probably why he came to the Guard.  And I think he liked to dress up in his uniform – liked to look and feel like a soldier. 

Raymond received a Bible from my mother as a Christmas gift when he was eighteen.  Receiving your own Bible was to undergo a rite of passage, and we took it seriously.  Raymond certainly did, and he kept his Bible close at hand.  I know he took it with him when the Bedford company mobilized in 1941.  Before the mobilization, the company would go off to this or that army camp to train for a week or two.  When they came back at the end of maneuvers, everybody would turn up to welcome them home.  One of my strongest memories is of the joy in the faces of those boys as they climbed off the trucks, because they knew their lives could get back to normal.  Once the company mobilized, though, the boys did not come back except as individuals whenever they could manage a pass or furlough.  Their joy on coming home was real enough, but the army was a greater reality.  After Pearl Harbor, so was the war.  

In June of 1944, I had just finished my freshman year, I was looking forward to spending large chunks of the summer at Bedford County Lake, and I was a long way from the frontlines.  A few days into the month, though, we learned that our boys overseas were on them.  We did not know who was where or how anyone was, but our faith was strong and our hopes remained high.  

Bedford's Headstone
In the weeks following D-Day, we heard reports of fierce fighting as the Allies moved deeper into France.  What we did not hear was any news about the Bedford company, or from Bedford and Raymond.  We were concerned, and as the days passed, our concern became fear, and fear, finally, a nightmare.  One Sunday in mid-July (July 15, 1944) everyone was getting dressed to go across the road to church.  An unexpected knock came through the door, and my father opened it to the sheriff.  Looking pained and mumbling a few words to Dad, the sheriff handed him a piece of paper – a telegram. “The War Department regrets to inform you,” it began, “that your son, Pvt. Bedford Turner Hoback has been killed in action.”  The news that everyone in town had been expecting, had been dreading, was finally here.  It was here – in our house. Our house.  We were stunned.  Scarcely comprehending the loss but painfully aware of my parents’ grief, I watched my mother’s tears begin, and my own followed. 

Raymond's MIA telegram
When the company left town in 1941, more than a hundred boys left with it, but by June 1944, as a function of reassignments and such, only 35 of them remained in the company, which had been brought up to strength with soldiers from all over the country.  Bedford had been one of the 35.  Throughout the rest of that Sunday, telegrams were delivered all around town, and family after family struggled to absorb that blow.  The next day, in our childish way, my sister Rachel and I thought we might cheer our folks up by making them some ice cream.  We were over the freezer cranking away when there was another knock – another telegram.  “The War Department regrets,” the too-familiar preamble read, “to inform you that your son, Staff Sgt. Raymond Samuel Hoback is missing in action.”  Mom and Dad were overcome with grief and I along with them.  To this moment I can remember nothing else that happened that day.  Time simply stopped.  

"Sacrifice" depicted at the Memorial with a Bible by his head
Raymond was never found. Several of his company mates subsequently reported seeing him lying on the beach near water’s edge, whether wounded or dead they did not know.  What is clear is that he, along with dozens others like him, was taken by the tide into the sea.  A word now about Providence, which manifested itself in the form of a package that arrived at our house a few days later.  It was a book sent by a soldier from W. Virginia, who had landed a day after Raymond had gone ashore.  “While walking on the beach on D-Day plus one,” he wrote, “…I came upon this Bible, and as most any person would do I picked it up from the sands to keep it from being destroyed.”  It was the Bible she had given Raymond for Christmas in 1938.  It was her only tangible connection to her missing son.  She treasured it for the rest of her life, as I treasure it today.  
We work hard every day at the National D-Day Memorial to keep the story of D-Day alive.  Bedford, VA suffered the highest per capita loss of any town in the USA, losing nineteen young men in the early morning hours of the invasion.  On June 6, 2014 during the 70th Anniversary of the Invasion we are hoping to dedicate a new statue, Homage, to the memory and honor of the Bedford Boys.  For more information, or to contribute to Homage, please visit our website.  Help us bring their story to life; help us bring their story home. 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let us "Never Forget"

 Join us at the National D-Day Memorial on Saturday, September 21 at 11 am for "Never Forget," a powerful and moving ceremony to honor those American who served our county and are still missing.  Air Force disc jockey Adrian Cronauer, who while on the air at Armed Forces Radio Saigon woke American troops in Vietnam each morning with the shout of "Goooooooood Morning, Viet Nam!," will be our guest speaker.  Cronauer was portrayed twenty years later by Robin Williams in the major motion picture, "Good Morning, Vietnam!"  Meanwhile, the real Adrian Cronauer was honorably discharged and continued as a broadcaster in Southwest Virginia for about a dozen years.  He later moved to New York, become a lawyer, practiced communications law for a dozen years, and then, was appointed by President George W. Bush as Special Assistant to the Director of the Pentagon's POW/MIA Office.  His speech "Accounting for America's Heroes" will highlight POW/MIA issues.  There will be a wreath laying during the ceremony.  Admission is free until noon.  For more information, call (540) 586-3329 or visit our website at  This event is generously sponsored by Harley Davidson of Lynchburg.

We hope to see you at the Memorial on Saturday for POW/MIA Awareness Day.  Below is a POW story from WWII.  I apologize for the length of this post; however, this in an incredible story.  I now present to you Clair Cline's remembrances from his time as a POW in Stalag Luft I as he wrote for the Guidepost Magazine in January 1997. 


The Prison Camp Violin by Clair Cline*

Clair Cline and his violin
In February 1944 I was a U.S. Air Corps pilot flying a B-24 bomber over Germany when antiaircraft fire hit our tail section and we lost all controls. We bailed out and on landing I found myself in a field in occupied Holland, just across the border from Germany. We were surrounded by villagers asking for chocolate and cigarettes. Then an elderly uniformed German with a pistol in an unsteady hand marched me to an interrogation center. From there I and other prisoners were shipped to Stalag Luft I, a prison camp for captured Allied airmen.

The camp was a dismal place. We lived in rough wooden barracks, sleeping on bunks with straw-filled burlap sacks on wooden slats. Rations were meager;  if it hadn't been for the Red Cross care packages, we would have starved.  But the worst affliction was our uncertainty. Not knowing when the war would end or what would happen (we had heard rumors of prisoners being killed)  left us with a constant gnawing worry. And since the Geneva Convention ruled  that officers were not allowed to be used for labor, we had little to keep  us occupied. What resulted was a wearying combination of apprehension and boredom.  Men coped in various ways: Some played bridge all day, others dug escape tunnels (to no avail), some read tattered paperbacks. I wrote letters to my wife and carved models of B-24s.

The long dreary months dragged on. One day early in the fall of 1944, I  found myself unable to stand airplane carving any longer. I tossed aside a half-finished model, looked out a barracks window at a leaden sky and prayed in desperation, "Oh, Lord, please help me find something constructive to do."
There seemed to be no answer as I slumped amid the dull slap of playing cards and the mutter of conversation. Then someone started whistling "Red Wing" and my heart lifted. Once again I was seven years old in rural  Minnesota listening to a fiddler sweep out the old melody. As a child I  loved the violin and when a grizzled uncle handed his to me I couldn't believe it. "It's yours, Red," he said, smiling. "I never could play the thing, but maybe you can make music with it."  There were no music teachers around our parts, but some of the old-timers who played at local dances in homes and barns patiently gave me tips. Soon I accompanied them while heavy-booted farmers and their long-gowned wives whirled and stomped to schottisches and polkas.

I thought how wonderful it would be to hold a violin again. But finding one in this place would be impossible. Just then I glanced at my cast-aside model, and a thought came to me: I can make one! Why not? I had done a little woodworking before I was in the service. But with what? And how? Where could I find the wood? The tools? I shook my head. I was about to forget the whole preposterous idea when something caught me. You can do it. The words hung there, almost as if Someone had challenged me. I grew up on a farm during the Depression, and had learned about resourcefulness. I remembered my father doggedly repairing hopelessly broken farm equipment. "You can make something out of nothing, Son," he said, looking up from the frayed harness he was riveting. "All you've got to do is find a way...and there always is one."

Barracks at Stalag Luft I
I looked around our barracks. The bunks. They had slats! Each was about four inches wide, three-quarters of an inch thick and 30 inches long. A few wouldn't be missed. Just maybe, I thought, just maybe I could. I already had a penknife gained by trading care-package tobacco rations with camp guards who delighted in amerikanische Zigaretten. Glue? It was essential. But glue was practically nonexistent in a war-ravaged country. "There's always a way," echoed Dad's words.  One day I happened to feel small, hard droplets around the rungs of my chair. Dried carpenter's glue! I carefully scraped off the brown residue from a few chairs, ground it to powder, mixed it with water and heated it on a stove. It would work. I cut the beech bed slats to the length of a violin body and glued them together. Then I began shaping the back panel. A sharp piece of broken glass came in handy for carving. Other men watched with interest, and some helped scrape glue from chairs for me.

Weeks went by in a flash. I shaped the curved sides of the body by bending water-soaked thin wood and heating it over the stove. My humdrum existence became exciting. I woke up every morning and could hardly wait to get back to work. When I needed tools, I improvised, even grinding an old kitchen knife on a rock to form a chisel. Slowly the instrument took shape. I glued several bed slats together to form the instrument's neck.  In three months the body was finished, including the delicate f-shaped holes on the violin's front. After carefully sanding the wood, I varnished the instrument (that cost me more cigarettes) and polished it with pumice and paraffin oil until it shone with a golden glow.

A guard came up with some catgut for the strings, and one day I was astonished to be handed a real violin bow. American cigarettes were valuable currency, and I was glad I hadn't smoked mine.
 Finally there came the day I lifted the finished instrument to my chin. Would it really play? Or would it be a croaking catastrophe? I drew the bow across the strings and my heart leaped as a pure resonant sound echoed through the air.  My fellow prisoners banished me to the latrine until I had regained my old skills. But from then on they clapped, sang, and even danced as I played "Red Wing," "Home on the Range" and "Red River Valley."
The violin Cline carved as a POW
My most memorable moment was Christmas Eve. As my buddies brooded about home and families, I began playing "Silent Night." As the notes drifted through the barracks a voice chimed in, then others. Amid the harmony I heard a different language.  "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, alles schläft, Einsam wacht . . . " An elderly white-haired guard stood in the shadows, his eyes wet with tears.

Cline with his violin
The following May we were liberated by U.S. troops. Through the years, the violin hung proudly in a display cabinet at home. As my four children and six grandchildren grew, it became an object lesson for escaping the narcosis of boredom.  "Find something you love to do," I urged, "and you'll find your work a gift from God." I'm happy to say all of them did. In the fall of 1995 I was invited to contribute the violin to the World War II museum aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York. I sent it hoping it would become an object lesson for others. But I was not prepared for the surprise that followed. I was told the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic would play it at the museum's opening. Afterward he called me.  "I expected a jalopy of a violin," said maestro Dicterow, "and instead it was something looking very good and sounding quite wonderful. It was an amazing achievement."  Not really, I thought.  More like a gift from God.

*Story from  Clair Cline passed away in September 2010 at the age of 92.  Most recently the violin has been on display at the National WWII Museum as part of an exhibit on POWs in WWII. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cadets Visit the Memorial

VMI cadets learning about the importance of D-Day.
Good afternoon!  Sorry that I have been absent this last week but we have been very busy at the National D-Day Memorial preparing for a few big events.  On September 14 and 15 we hosted the cadets from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and the Virginia Military Institute, respectively.  It was an incredible sight as 330 V. Tech cadets and 500 VMI cadets moved around the Memorial learning about the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice made by our servicemen and women on D-Day.  Special thanks goes out to all the volunteers who participated in this event.  I would also like to thank Jennifer and Nicole for the photographs of cadets used above.  For more photographs, please visit our Facebook page!  
V. Tech cadets listening to a WWII veteran.
Each of these schools are represented with plaques at the Memorial, and servicemen from each school and of all rank were responsible for the success of D-Day. 

General Leonard Gerow
One well-known VMI graduate involved in the Normandy invasion was General Leonard T. Gerow.  Gerow graduated from VMI in 1911 as an honors graduate.  He received his commission in the regular army as a second lieutenant of infantry.  In 1942, Gerow assumed command of the 29th Infantry Division.  In October, his division deployed to England as part of the buildup of the US forces.  In July 1943 he assumed command of V Corps, then the highest US field command in England.  Major Gerow wanted to prove that his troops, largely made up of National Guard outfits, could be made just as tough and battle-ready as any others in the US Army.  He was very aware of how some of his fellow generals belittle the National Guard troops under his command.  He tended to work his men twice as hard.  In large part, due to his tough training regime, the 29th had trained longer and harder than any other American division.  Gerow commanded V Corps during the Normandy landings, the breakout across Paris, and the penetration of the Siegfried line.  The V Corps suffered over 2,400 dead, wounded and missing. 


Thursday, September 5, 2013

70th Anniversary of D-Day: Operation THANK YOU

We at the National D-Day Memorial are busy preparing for the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.  I know that we are nine months (and one day) shy of the event, but this is going to be huge, and right now I want to take a moment to invite all educators and students to participate in a very special program.


65th Anniversary winner: California Resident George Tilton-Low, aged 7

June 6, 2014 marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the largest land, air, and sea operation in history and a day that changed the course of history. Of the 150,000 Allied servicemen and women who participated in the invasion, only a handful still remain. The younger D-Day veterans will turn 92 years of age this year; by the 75th anniversary in 2019, they will be all but gone. The opportunity to thank these men and women for their service while they still walk among us, while they can experience our thanks and appreciate it, will soon be lost. The time to act is NOW.

Operation “THANK YOU” is one way educators can get their students involved in the observance of the D-Day anniversary. The purpose of Operation THANK YOU is to have students offer messages of thanks to our WWII and D-Day veterans in highly visual formats. Educators are invited to have their students spell out “THANK YOU” as creatively as possible and submit a photograph of their results. The key is creativity – use the student body to spell out “THANK YOU” in giant letters on the football field, or spell it out with a collage of images from WWII. Get creative and say thanks!

A panel of judges will select the most creative “THANK YOU” image, which will then be used on the cover of the commemorative program for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day at the National D-Day Memorial in June 2014. Superior entries will be featured in local media to help promote the 70th Anniversary of D-Day at the National D-Day Memorial next year.

Entries must be received by January 10, 2014 to be considered. Send your submission to:

National D-Day Memorial Foundation
Attn: Operation THANK YOU
PO Box 77
Bedford, VA 24523

or submit via email at Be sure to include your name, school, mailing address, phone number, and email address. Students in grades K-12 in public and private schools are eligible to participate. Submissions must be in the form of color photographs or digital images – no original artwork or videos will be accepted. Students may submit work individually or in groups, but no more than one entry per person will be accepted. All submissions become property of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation. The Foundation is not responsible for lost or damaged submissions. For more information, contact the Education Department of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation at (540) 586-3329 or visit our website at


I look forward to seeing entries from across the county!