Bedford D-Day memorial works with family to honor forgotten Bedford Boy

BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) - As we approach the 75th anniversary of D-Day, many people will think of the Bedford Boys, the 19 men killed on the beaches of Normandy.

But there is a 20th Bedford Boy, who also gave the ultimate sacrifice.
His family is working to make sure his memory is not forgotten.

"It gets your attention, doesn't it?" said James Woodford, looking out over the memorial site.

An onlooker's attention is something Woodford has been working toward for a long time. As a Bedford native, he knows the price this town paid on June 6, 1944.

“You just stand there," he said, motioning with his head toward the memorial plaza. "Just can’t say anything. 'Course, we’ve all watched the movies. "Saving Private Ryan" is probably about as vivid and close to being like it was. But experiencing it yourself? holy smokes, can you imagine? You can’t imagine. Just hope it never happens again.”

The memorial means more to Woodford than the usual visitor. Hubbard's family has a history of military service, including his father, Cecil and his own son who's been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But even the boys who came before his own, are dear in their own way to Woodford.

"You just gotta remember them boys," he said. "All of them."

All of them. Not just the 19 boys of Company A everybody has come to know. But another young man, the 20th, whose sacrifice was no less great.

"I'm just thankful he's not forgotten," Woodford said. 'Because it seems like he may have been."

Woodford is the great nephew of Benjamin R. Hubbard, who killed on D-day while serving with Company F. He grew up knowing about his great uncle, but said details from his grandmother, Hubbard's sister, were scarce.

"We saw pictures and we would ask who he was and she just said he died on Omaha Beach. D-Day," he said.

Years later, Woodfoord and his wife began a mission to learn more.
At the same time, the D-Day Memorial Foundation was doing the same.

"He's not a name that actually came up over the years," said April Cheek-Messier, President of the foundation.

They believe Hubbard grew up in Huddleston and later moved between Bedford and Roanoke County. He likely worked with the railroad and in a feed store with his father. Woodford believes he attended Roland E. Cook Elementary school and the old William Byrd school, but doesn't know how far he went.

Woodford's mother-in-law attended school with Hubbard. She would tell Woodford that Hubbard was a good student, though prone to falling asleep in class.

According the Cheek-Messier, during D-Day Hubbard was in Company F of the 116th. He is listed under both Bedford and Roanoke counties in the Gold Star Honor Roll of Virginians in the Second World War. His father was listed as next of kin with a Vinton address. They may have lived on Rt. 24 between Vinton and Bedford County.

Hubbard would die around age 30, about 10 years before Woodford was even born. But that fact doesn't make Hubbard's untimely death any less meaningful.

"Well it was my grandmother's brother," Woodford said with a shake of his head. "And to die on the beach? It's tough."

It would be tougher still to think that Hubbard's life might have been forgotten.

And that is why Woodford is honoring his great uncle in the memorial's Gold Star garden.

"There it is," said a memorial site groundskeeper, pointing to neatly laid bricks in the garden.

Woodford's eyes follow, and fall on a brick bearing Hubbard's name; a gift from Woodford and his wife laying the foundation of an everlasting tribute.

"Whats it like to see it in person?" we ask the silent Woodford who is gazing downward.

"It's good," he said with a deep sigh.

For Cheek-Messier the discovery of Hubard's family the retelling of their stories and the purchase of a brick in his honor is a gift in itself.

"It's amazing," she said. "It's just so important to document the lives of these individuals. And to tell their stories because it really resonates with people. It's the stories."

Hubbard's memorial brick was dedicated in a special ceremony at he memorial on Memorial Day. And so, with Woodford's help, Hubbard's story is now one that has the attention he believes his great uncle so rightly deserved.

"It's a good honor."