CAMP ADDER, Iraq - More than 65 years after A Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, left its indelible mark on history, its Soldiers have deployed in support of Operation Iraq Freedom.
To history buffs, A Company is endearingly referred to as the "Bedford Boys" because of the Virginia National Guard unit's selfless sacrifices in support of World War II on the beaches of Normandy.
"The history of this company goes back to February 1941, when it was called into federal service as part of the 29th Infantry Regiment," said 1st Sgt. Kevin Stewart, A Company's first sergeant. "However, it was the morning of June 6, 1944, as part of the allied invasion that the unit first saw action."
The veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and former active Army component Soldier told the story of the 30 Bedford, Va., Soldiers, who were the first infantrymen to hit the beaches of Normandy, specifically Omaha Beach.
On that one fateful day, more than 2,500 U.S. armed forces members lost their lives in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home.
"Bedford is claimed to have lost more men per capita on D-Day than any other town in the country," Stewart stressed. "To honor the memories of these men, Congress placed the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford."
The impact of the loss of the 22 young men from the small Blue Ridge town of only 3,200 residents is still felt today, with the passing of the last surviving "Bedford Boy," Ray Nance in April 2009.
To honor the memory of the boys, who lost their lives within the first few minutes of D-day, the troops of today's A Company, 1-116th carry with them the pride in their unit's history and heritage, Stewart explained.
The Soldiers of A Company recently arrived at Camp Adder, Iraq, with the Louisiana Army National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
Stewart, a graduate of Quitman High School, in Quitman, La., laughed at the irony when asked about the opportunity to deploy with troops from his state of birth.
"I was excited when I found out that we were deploying with a brigade from Louisiana," the Virginia transplant recalled. "I was born in the Hodge Clinic, in Hodge, La., and I remember the National Guard armory in Jonesboro across the street from the old Wal-Mart," he spoke of the unit that is now reorganized into A Company, 199th Brigade Support Battalion, which is also deployed with the 256th.
The deployment with the Louisiana Guard's "Tiger Brigade" marks the first time that A Company, 1-116th, will deploy under its own colors since the days of the "Bedford Boys."
"It is truly an honor to serve in this unit," said Capt. Miguel Lickliter, A Company commander. "The Soldiers who came before us showed all of us the values of self-sacrifice, loyalty and duty. Their commitment to the mission and each other serves as a shining example for all Soldiers to emulate."
Lickliter of Bedford explained that his Soldiers take seriously the sacrifices of its past Soldiers.
"We are proud of our history, and we remain dedicated and steadfast to honor our past brothers-in-arms; it gives us a lot of pride to be able to fly our colors as we serve our country."