What most people today don't understand about the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944 is that it was actually a massive screwup.
Movies like "The Longest Day" depict a meticulously planned operation, executed flawlessly. But if you talk to the combatants who were there, you come away with the sense that nothing could be farther from the truth.
No military commander in his right mind would have sent his troops ashore in the face of the devastating barrage from above that killed 19 out of 35 Bedford men from Company A of the 116th Infantry Division, along with hundreds of other Allied soldiers. That German resistance was supposed to have been battered to a pulp by American, British and Canadian air power -- and besides, the defenders at Omaha Beach were said to have been green conscripts from Eastern Europe.
As it turned out, while some of the German batteries were taken out, the mischievous tides shifted many of the landing craft to an area of Normandy's Omaha Beach that was more fiercely (and capably) defended than intelligence reports would have indicated.
The advance aerial bombardment was supposed to have accomplished two purposes -- to take out as many of the German guns as possible and to create shell craters on the beach in which the invading troops could take cover.
None of this happened where Company A charged ashore. Resistance was almost overwhelming, and it came from seasoned German marksmen. The only way to find cover was to sprint across the beach, weighed down with wet clothes and equipment, and seek shelter against the face of the escarpment.
According to some later accounts, commanding Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower actually carried a worst-case scenario speech in his pocket throughout much of that longest day, something to refer to when explaining to the nation that the operation had failed, and why.
Indeed, once he saw what was unfolding, Eisenhower thought briefly of scrapping the invasion. But the huge armada of warships and planes had already been set in motion.
On the beach, military discipline stepped aside in favor of survival. Their ranks scattered, their commanding officers lying dead in the sand, the Allied soldiers simply did what they had to do as individuals to stay alive.
Now, time is reducing their ranks with cold efficiency. After the death of Roy Stevens earlier this year, Bedford resident Ray Nance inherited the mantle of Lone Survivor among the so-called Bedford Boys -- the group of National Guardsmen whose sacrifice provided the rationale for placing the National D-Day Memorial alongside U.S. 40.
So if you happen to see Nance this week, don't forget to thank him. He endured even more than you realize.