On 6 June 1944, soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history. Thirty soldiers from Bedford, Virginia, members of Company A of the 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach. “By day’s end,” according to the National D-Day Memorial, “nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses.” The Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead, part of the records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, documents the sacrifice of 15 of the 19 Bedford soldiers.
The Virginia World War II History Commission was established by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly approved on 8 March 1944. The commission was a policy-making body comprised of twelve non-salaried citizens appointed by the Governor. Its purpose was “to collect, assemble, edit, and publish. . . information and material with respect to the contribution to World War II made by Virginia and Virginians.” One of the most important records created by the Commission were the Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s Dead, a questionnaire completed by the next-of-kin of Virginians killed during World War II. The three-page questionnaire records personal and military data. The first page records personal information including the full name of the soldier, home address at time of enlistment, birth date and place, race, height, weight, name of spouse, date and place of marriage, name and date of birth of children, education, religious affiliation, and name of father and mother. The second and third pages record military information including date and place of enlistment, induction or commission, branch of service, prior military service, where trained or stationed, promotions, military honors, circumstances of death (including date and place) and the next of kin. Photographs were often included. Information from this collection was used to compile, Gold Star Honor Roll of Virginians in the Second World War, edited by W. Edwin Hemphill and published by the commission in 1947.
There are questionnaires for 15 of the 19 Bedford soldiers killed on D-Day.
The records of the World War II History Commission, Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead, are open for research at the Library of Virginia.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist