It all started with a telegram that read, “WE HAVE CASUALTIES.”
On the morning of Monday, July 17, 1944, Elizabeth Teass came to work at Green’s Drug Store and cut on the Western Union teletype machine, sending her typical morning greeting to the Western Union office in Roanoke that read, “GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. BEDFORD.” The reply—“GOOD MORNING. GO AHEAD. ROANOKE. WE HAVE CASUALTIES”—confirmed the worst fears of the town’s residents.
“In Bedford, 3,200 people were waiting for news,” Ken Parker of the Company A Bedford Boys Tribute Center said. “They knew Company A was at the tip of the invasion and they were beyond anxious. Weeks go by with no word and then all of a sudden, it starts.”
Throughout the day—more than five weeks after the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944—residents in the town would receive news that 19 of the 35 Bedford men sent to fight in World War II were killed on the beaches of Normandy and another killed a few weeks later during fighting in France.
“That was the darkest day in this town’s history,” Parker said. “That was the day Bedford fell to its knees.”
Seventy-five years later, more than 50 people gathered at the site of the former Green’s Drug Store at the corner of North Bridge and Main streets in Bedford where the telegrams about the “Bedford Boys” were received.
“We celebrate D-Day every year,” Parker said. “However, this is the first time the day Elizabeth Teass received the first of those fateful telegrams has been commemorated.”
Parker said most of the families—who received a telegram notifying them that their family member was listed as Missing In Action—had to wait weeks before they received another telegram confirming that they had been killed.
“This didn’t end on July 17, 1944,” Parker said. “That is just the day it started. Sometimes weeks passed before it was confirmed that they were dead. You can imagine those weeks of anxiety for these families.”
Teass’ cousin, Joanne Bolling—who attended Wednesday’s ceremony—said Teass used to speak with her about her role in the events of July 17, 1944, and the weeks that followed.
“I remember her telling me the Bedford community felt like family,” Bolling said. “Everyone came to Green’s Drug Store back then and she knew all those boys and their families. She told me how hard it was on the town because everyone was so close.”
The ceremony was held for relatives and friends of the Bedford Boys, more than a dozen of who attended the event.
Salley said the events following July 17, 1944, led Grey to retire as pastor of the Bedford Presbyterian Church later that year.
“Rev. Grey was pastor of the church from 1907 to 1944,” Salley said. “I believe the sustained grief of that year finally moved him to retire. He said he was done after the war.”