Photo courtesy of the Bedford Museum and Genealogical Library and the National D-Day Memorial Foundation
Every generation goes through some sort of struggle or hardship. For one Bedford, Virginia soldier, his generation’s struggle would be costly. Before the onslaught of World War II, the United States had fallen into the dark days of the Depression. People were in constant fear of losing everything they owned and strived to keep their heads above water. For Bedford, Virginia, twins Ray & Roy Stevens, their family’s survival meant them dropping out of school to work and earn extra income. Ray worked at a local grocery store, and the boys even earned a few cents in boxing matches.
The boys thought they would try their hand at the military, and in 1938 they chose the Virginia National Guard because it would pay one dollar a week. Ray joined first and his brother followed soon after. The extra money helped the family while the extra attention the uniforms brought them wasn’t so bad either. Little did they know that their unit would one day suffer high casualties on one important operation.
For more extensive training, Ray and Roy left for Fort Meade, Maryland, on February 18, 1941. After training was complete, their unit was shipped off to England, many of the young men never to return home. There, they would embark on what General Dwight Eisenhower called “the great crusade,” or D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in history on June 6, 1944.
The night before the invasion, no one slept. Their nerves were on edge just thinking about what they were about to face on the other side of the English Channel. The next day, Roy and Ray rode the Empire Javelin towards Normandy to board individual Landing Craft Assault boats. Before the brothers parted, Roy recalls that, “Ray extended his hand to me, but I didn’t shake it. I said we’d shake hands when we got together again.” Roy did not make it to Omaha Beach until three days after the initial assault. The boat was sunk by German fire and the men aboard had to tread water for two hours before another boat found them and brought them back to England. Ray was not as lucky. His boat made it to Omaha Beach but he did not survive much longer after the landing. While trying to knock out German defenses and stay clear of harms way, Ray was shot across the midsection by machine gun fire and died instantly. Roy and his family would never be the same.
Roy returned home to Bedford in August of ’45. His mother and father were relieved that their son had returned, but Roy recalls, “I was home, but Ray would never be coming up that road. I could see the pain of it in her eyes.” His mother’s reaction was like that of countless other mothers whose sons had been killed in action. In the Shrine of Memory, we honor and respect those Virginia sons and daughters who have given their lives for our freedoms. Ray never came home, but his story will always live on at the Memorial.
Ray Stevens’ name in the Shrine of Memory.