Academics

‘Bedford Boys’: Theatre project pays tribute to local heroes, delivers message of family and hope

By Ryan Klinker, October 31, 2019

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When 35 young men from Bedford, Va., were called to join the Allied recovery of western Europe in 1944 as a spearhead for the D-Day invasion, their story of loss and sacrifice became local, national, and international history.

Their unforgettable actions are still affecting the region to this day, and in November, their story will be brought to the Tower Theater stage at Liberty University with “Bedford Boys,” an original play written and performed by students.

The “Bedford Boys,” as they have come to be known, were from Company A of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division in Bedford and were among the first wave of soldiers to hit the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The small town of Bedford experienced a larger loss of men per capita than any other town; 19 men died that day and in the three days that followed. Thirteen survived. The National D-Day Memorial is located in Bedford for this reason, about 25 minutes from Liberty’s campus.

Students visited the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., to gather information and talk to those who knew the real Bedford Boys.

The play’s production process began in January, when a team of 14 students from the theatre department’s Writing Project collaborated to tackle the storytelling task.

According to Theatre Arts Department Chair Linda Nell Cooper, who served as the writing facilitator and will direct the show, much of the research came from interviews with local historians, people who knew the men, and even letters from the soldiers.

“We got a lot of our research from personal letters that they wrote back home to their sweethearts and mothers, and some of those letters are actually in the script, so audiences will get to hear the exact words and hear how eloquent they were,” Cooper said.

Senior Laura Falcione, who helped write the script and will be the stage manager, said the show connected her to this important part of history in a different way.

“I studied World War II extensively in high school, and I thought I knew so much about that period, but I didn’t know anything about their specific story, the laws that were created because of what happened to them, and that the D-Day Memorial is right down the road,” Falcione said. “It’s such a beautiful story of sacrifice, but it’s also a testament to home, what that meant during that time, and what it still means today for the people of Bedford.”

Throughout the research and writing process, the team found itself unfolding a story of true heroism in the real lives that epitomized an important era in American history. Cooper said that as the group pored over their sources, clear themes of patriotism and dedication emerged as the soldiers sought to protect their homes and families.

“All of them were so patriotic, and it’s so clear in their letters that they all wanted to do this and felt it was their responsibility and honor to protect their loved ones back home even when they knew they were going into essentially a suicide mission,” Cooper said.

Senior Joel Hadden was part of the writing team and is now preparing to step into the role of Ray Stevens, a soldier who joined Company A with his brother Roy. The Stevens brothers were one of three sets of brothers in the unit, so there was an obvious familial bond between the men. Hadden was fascinated by their civilian lives before they were drafted and the lives they had planned to return to.

“These are boys that represent hometown America at that time,” Hadden said. “There were a lot of baseball players who could have played professionally, other guys loved working on cars, and for me and the other writers, one of the coolest things about the process was finding out what their dreams and aspirations were.”

For some of the students who have taken part in the Writing Project, the experience has sparked a passion for the craft.

“Being a part of the project has actually opened up a passion for playwriting that not a lot of us from the team realized, and now I want to do it either as a hobby or career, and I never would have known that without this project,” Falcione said.

The Writing Project is funded by a grant from Liberty’s Center for Research & Scholarship. This is the second year for the project, after last year’s “Bloodroot,” which told the story of women from Virginia’s Clinch Mountain. “Bloodroot” was nationally recognized by the Kennedy Center.

Students working on the “Bedford Boys” theatre project present Act 1 in a public reading at the Bower Center in Bedford, Va.

As part of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the students presented the first act of the show in a public reading on May 31 at the Bower Center in Bedford. Both Falcione and Hadden feel that this show will especially resonate with the local community.

“Seeing research being put into a show like this that has a true story is really valuable, and I think the people who come to see it, especially those from Bedford who have that connection, will see that come through,” Falcione said.

“Bedford does everything they can to remember those boys,” Hadden added, “and we want to come alongside that community and help people remember their sacrifice.”

***All veterans, active duty, and retired military members receive a free ticket to any “Bedford Boys” performance.


Honoring the Brave

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, students, and staff took part in events to honor the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June.

Liberty students on an LU Send trip walk through the Normandy American Cemetery in France on June 6.

A group of 10 students and two staff members who were on an LU Send trip to France with the John W. Rawlings School of Divinity attended a ceremony at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on June 6. The group heard from President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron and visited the American cemetery that overlooks Omaha Beach.

Vice President Mike Pence and President Falwell were among the guest speakers at “The Final Salute” ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va.

Falwell read an excerpt from the journal of the Rev. R.M. Hickey, chaplain of the North Shore Regiment that invaded Juno Beach. As a resident of Bedford County for many years, Falwell said he has heard a lot of inspiring stories of the Bedford Boys. Next door to his farm is an old school house that was once the home of Bedford Boy Capt. Taylor Fellers.

President Jerry Falwell and Becki Falwell at the “The Final Salute” ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. (Photo by Joel Coleman)

“I was honored to be here and it had special meaning to me; it’s so close to home,” he said. “Those veterans who went over and fought and died were fighting against the Nazis who were just brutal and authoritarian. When I see all of the anti-Semitism around the country and the move toward progressivism and authoritarianism, it reminds me of the Nazis they were fighting.”

Liberty offered bus shuttle service from the parking lots to the monument and opened Williams Stadium for a live simulcast of the ceremony.

Dr. David Snead, an associate professor of history, was one of 100 distinguished academic guests invited to give a presentation at the Normandy 75 Conference in Portsmouth, U.K. The presentation focused on WWII Seabees (United States Naval Construction Battalions), a group of non-combat construction workers who supplied ammunition, food, and other provisions during the Normandy invasion. Snead’s fascination with Seabees ignited years ago after hearing his grandfather-in-law reminisce about working in the Construction Battalions. Snead hopes to publish his research, shedding light on the unsung heroes of D-Day.

 

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