Book Review: The Bedford Boys By Alex Kershaw

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Review by Jack Smith

It’s hard to understand “The Greatest Generation,“ but after Pearl Harbor, enlistment centers were swamped with young men who stood in line for hours for the chance to serve their country. One example was my father, age 18, from the small town of Meridian, Mississippi, population 4,500. He, like every boy, enlisted; and three boys who were 4f actually committed suicide. I grew up in the Blue Ridge town of Roanoke Virginia, but just 30 miles east was the town of Bedford. It was a small town with just one high school. Everyone knew each other and the boys dated their friends’ sisters. At the end of the Depression, jobs were scarce and after high school graduation, most joined the local National Guard. The Guard was more of a social club than a military unit where teens jitter-bugged the night away, girls wore revealing woolen bathing costumes and the Bedford boys would try and sweet talk them out of them. In December of 1941, a dance was held at the local high school to see the boys off and little did the wives and girlfriends realize that this would be the last farewell. After traveling by train to New York, the boys were told that they would be traveling to their new base in England via the grandest ship ever built, The Queen Mary. These luxurious visions were quickly dashed, as they found the luxury liner stripped of every piece of personal comfort including six miles of carpet, 450 deck chairs and 220 cases of China and crystal. The worry of Submarine “Wolf Packs“ was little as the Queen Mary was the fastest ship ever built and could easily outrun the subs. They soon found out that they would be in the first wave to hit Utah beach. At 6:45 they loaded into their landing craft. They never came back. After hearing their story, actor Tom Hanks reached into his pocket and paid to have the World War Two memorial park to honor the “Bedford Boys“ completed. If you go there, be prepared to have an emotional experience as you try to understand “The Greatest Generation.“