THE WOUNDS THAT NEVER SEEM TO HEAL
'It's hard, but I feel like the story needs to be told'
The National D-Day Memorial's plaza and arch will be dedicated Monday, putting Bedford and the sacrifices of its sons in the spotlight again.
By Tad Dickens
The Roanoke Times
May 25, 2000
KELLY HAHN JOHNSON/THE ROANOKE TIMES
Roy Stevens was in the first wave of soldiers on Normandy Beach and his twin brother died there, and Lucille Boggess lost two brothers at Normandy
BEDFORD - They've endured countless interviews to let the world know of Bedford and Bedford County's D-Day sacrifices.
Lucille Hoback Boggess, Ray Nance, Roy Stevens and Elizabeth Teass can expect even more media attention in the next year.
Reporters and photographers from around the world will focus on them Monday, as the National D-Day Memorial's plaza and arch are dedicated.
It will be the site's first major event since its 1997 groundbreaking. By June 6, 2001, the 57th anniversary of D-Day, the entire memorial should be complete.
Boggess, Nance and the others know by heart so many of the questions - What happened in the battle? How did you handle the loss of your loved ones? How did your family handle it? All the angles have been covered.
Stevens, Boggess and Teass continue to provide the answers. Nance says he doesn't want to anymore.
Telling the stories over and over can be trying, he said.
"It's just been so much of it, and I told these things so many times," Nance said, adding, "It just sort of looks like it got to a point where it was kind of a task, a problem or something."
But Nance's connection to the invasion is indelible. He and Stevens were in the first wave of the World War II soldiers invading Nazi-controlled France. That group included 35 Bedford town and county soldiers.
Ray Stevens, who was Roy's twin brother and Nance's good friend, died there. So did Raymond and Bedford Hoback, two of Boggess' brothers. And Teass, a 21-year-old telegraph operator on June 4, 1944, had to pass on word of the town's and county's deaths.
There were 23 in all - 19 in the first minutes of the attack, two later in the day and two more in the next five days.
Nineteen of those casualties were from Bedford, giving the little town the distinction of suffering the nation's biggest per-capita loss of life. And it was the key factor in Bedford's selection as the memorial site.
Reporters, authors and camera crews have been coming to town since the invasion's 10th anniversary. They gravitated to the county courthouse, where a monument to D-Day's fallen Bedford soldiers stands. Often, their next stop would be inside the courthouse, where Boggess was Bedford County's commissioner of revenue from 1968 to 1991.
Other Hoback siblings have been reluctant to talk about brothers Raymond and Bedford, leaving Boggess as the family spokeswoman, she said.
She has a box, too heavy for her to lift, full of newspaper and magazine articles from around the world dating to 1968. She has a smaller collection of videotapes from local and national newscasts.
Sometimes she wonders how she'll handle the next interview.
"It's hard, but I feel like the story needs to be told," Boggess said. "Even though it's hard, I feel like any way I can help those men who made the sacrifices, and those who fought and came home, I will. If I can help build a memorial, if that means telling the story, I'll help any way I can."
Emotionally, it's never been easy, she said. D-Day's 50th anniversary may have been the toughest. As she told her story in 35 interviews that summer, she kept photographs of Bedford and Raymond next to her.
"I just never seemed like I could ever let go," she said, because retelling the story "always kept it so fresh in my mind. It brings it all back to you. It's not that you want to forget about them. It's just heartbreaking."
The media picks up on the emotions. Some magazine and newspaper articles, particularly one in the May issue of George magazine, have seemed to rely on an image of Bedford that doesn't really exist, she said.
"They made us all look like we were never able to move on beyond D-Day," she said. "They had photos with long, drawn faces. Some of the other reporters have portrayed Bedford as not having ever recovered from D-Day, that we are devastated and still grieving."
Richard Burrow, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation director, worries about that impression. He said it betrays the whole community, as well as those giving the interviews.
"These are the most genuine people you will ever meet," Burrow said. "I don't want these people mischaracterized."
On the other hand, D-Day veteran Stevens said, the media attention has given veterans a chance to tell the truth about the war without fear their friends and neighbors would label them braggarts.
Generally, people know that men who tell big war stories have seen little real action, said Stevens, whose boat was ripped open by a German obstacle on D-Day. He and others on the boat were rescued and returned to England. Four days later, he returned to Normandy, later taking a land mine's shrapnel in the neck and shoulder.
"We wouldn't talk about it," he said. "People would think we were bragging. The only way we'd talk about it was with each other."
Teass, who received the telegraph messages of Bedford deaths, said she was just doing her job that day. All the attention she has received has made her a little nervous.
"You know, I'm the type of person who never did like publicity," Teass said. "To be on TV and have pictures taken and things, that's not my thing."
But she soldiers on - an interview with ABC television is next, she said, on Saturday. It's worth it to honor the soldiers who fought at Normandy and for the chance to meet new people.
"I've enjoyed everyone that I've met," she said. "I've loved the people."
Nance said he grew sick of the attention long ago, but he still enjoys the articles. The George piece brought contact from old friends and family members who read it, he said. But if anybody else wants to assume his responsibilities, they're welcome, he said.
"They can have all the recognition they want," said Nance, who was wounded three times in the invasion. "I'm tired of it."