BEDFORD, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Bedford-based Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were honored for their federal active duty service in Africa at a welcome home parade hosted by the Bedford Boys Tribute Center Feb. 11, 2023, in Bedford, Virginia.
Alpha Company mobilized as part of Task Force Red Dragon to conduct a security mission for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa from November 2021 through September 2022.
Mayor of Bedford Tim Black, National D-Day Memorial President April Cheek-Messier and Maj. Gen. John M. Rhodes, 29th Infantry Division commanding general, all delivered remarks thanking the Soldiers for their service and their families and the Bedford community for their support. Rhodes presented 29th ID certificates of appreciation to Black, Cheek-Messier and Ken and Linda Parker, founders of the Bedford Boys Tribute Center. The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial music for the event.
“This is what the National Guard is all about,” Rhodes said. “The National Guard is a community-based organization.”
Rhodes explained how National Guard troops are part of their communities, and it is often where they work, shop and send their kids to school.
“That is what makes the National Guard a unique organization,” he said. “When we deploy, the community as a whole deploys. To see this community come out to welcome these Soldiers home is so emotional to me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
Rhodes said it was also very important to recognize the Soldiers’ families.
“I can tell you the families’ service is as honorable as those of use who wear the uniform,” he said.
“Thank you for your service,” Rhodes told the Soldiers of Alpha Company. “You are carrying on the proud tradition of what Bedford is all about. I am proud of you and what you have accomplished.”
When the 116th Infantry Infantry was activated for World War II service Feb. 3, 1941, Virginia communities provided Soldiers to serve in the unit, and Bedford provided Soldiers to serve in Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. During the assault on Omaha Beach during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion, 19 of the “Bedford Boys” of Company A died.
Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200, and proportionally the Bedford community suffered the nation’s most severe D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford represented both large and small communities whose citizen-Soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
“As we harken back to an even earlier time, we remember the unshakeable devotion of Company A,” Cheek-Messier said. “That devotion, as we can all see, has not gone away.”
She shared stories of several of the Bedford Boys, including Capt. Taylor Fellers, the commander of Company A on D-Day, and how he stressed to the pilot of his landing craft the importance of getting to the beach at their appointed time. Some of Bedford Boys could have followed a path allowing them to miss the D-Day landings, but she explained how they simply wanted to be with their comrades, their friends, doing a job they had trained together for so long.
“That same devotion is apparent today,” she said. “Your camaraderie, your commitment to country, to one another, echoing the resolve of Taylor Fellers and his men. You all had a job to do, and you did it, and you did it extraordinarily well. This community could not be more proud.”
Cheek-Messier said less than 170,000 WWII veterans are still living, there were more than 60 million who served, and it is important to remember to share their legacy.
“You are already doing that by continuing to be the torchbearers of freedom with your service to the country,” she said to the Soldiers of Alpha Company. “You took an oath of service to our nation at whatever the cost. You have dedicated yourself to that duty. You, like those who came before you, followed a simple patriotic call to civic duty. You were, and still are, prepared to defend the ideals of peace, freedom and democracy.”
She said nothing they say could possibly do justice to the sacrifices of the Soldiers or the sacrifices made by their families.
“We will not forget what you have done and continue to do with your service,” Cheek-Messier said. “We can never repay that debt, but we can remember and say thank you. We are so happy you are home.”
The turnout of the Bedford community and their support throughout the entire deployment made a lasting impact on Alpha Company Soldiers.
“Speaking on behalf of Alpha Company, I have to say that was one of the greatest events I have taken part in,” said Capt. Jonathan Moak, commander of Alpha Company. “The town really showed up and showed us what we mean to them. The National Guard is a unique organization that is woven into the fabric of the community. and that was proven here today.”
Moak also recognized the importance of The Operation Bedford Remembers program where citizens wrote letters and sent care packages to the unit while they were in Africa. Many of those citizens came out and had a special lunch with at the Bedford armory.
“I can't say enough about how that makes us feel,” Moak said. “We're proud to be the ‘modern’ Bedford Boys."
More than 1,000 Virginia and Kentucky National Guard Soldiers mobilized as Task Force Red Dragon under the command of the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to conduct a security mission for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. They returned to Virginia and reunited with loved ones in late September and early October 2022.
~ Read more about 1-116th Infantry Regiment at https://ngpa.us/24035
~ Photos of the parade on Flickr at https://ngpa.us/24036
~ Video with full speaker remarks on YouTube at https://ngpa.us/24037