BEDFORD, Va. — The beauty of Bedford, Virginia, is breathtaking in its natural splendor, but unseen is a lingering sadness.
Marguerite Cottrell recalled the painful moment a stranger appeared carrying terrible news nearly 75 years ago.
“I remember the day we got the message,” Cottrell said. “I knew something was wrong when this man delivered a letter.”
“I said, ‘What was wrong?’ And she said, ‘Little Jack is gone,’” Cottrell said. “I said, ‘Gone?’ She said, ‘Jesus got my little boy now.’”
Marguerite Cottrell holds a portrait of her brother, Jack, one of the Bedford Boys who died in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
Two years earlier, Cottrell’s older brother, Jack Reynolds, was ordered to Europe as World War II was raging.
“Before he left, he came over and picked me up and said, ‘I want you to be a good little girl till I came home.’ That made my day,” Cottrell said.
“He looked big and handsome to me,” Cottrell remembered. “I guess that was the first person I’d ever seen in uniform was my brother.”
However, the soldiers would spearhead the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. And in a matter of minutes Company A melted under withering fire from German defenders on Omaha Beach.
Uncertainty and fear gripped the town. Five weeks later, a wave of pain from 4,000 miles away washed across Bedford.
Nineteen Bedford Boys from Company A were dead or missing and another Bedford man in a different unit was also killed. It was the largest per-capita loss for one town in America.
“It affected everybody,” Cottrell recalled. “Some kind of a way it, I think, it affected everybody.”
“That was the worst of all of the beaches. The people didn’t find out about it right away,” Morrison said. “The impact of D-Day on such a small community with a National Guard unit and having 20 people killed is really poignant.”
At the Reynolds home, Marguerite’s mother fell into a state of depression. Never fully recovering from losing her second son.
“My mother till her dying day never quit talking about Jack,” Cottrell said. “She just felt like a part of her died when Jack died. That took a toll on her.”
“She said, ‘I’m not leaving my boy over there.’ She said, ‘France may take my boy away from me, but France is not keeping him,’” Cottrell said.
Three years after the war’s end, Mrs. Reynold’s would get her wish. Her son’s remains were returned to Virginia from France in 1947.
Jack is resting at Greenwood Cemetery among several fellow Bedford Boys like Tech Sgt. Frank Draper, Capt. Taylor Fellers and Master Sgt. John Wilkes.
“All of this belonged to my mother,” Cottrell said. “He was everything to us. Still is today.”
Seventy-five years after D-Day, the relics compliment fading memories of the brother she barely knew.
“I was with my mother when she passed away and I sure did hate to lose her. But the one bright thing was thinking, ‘Well, now maybe she has seen her boy that she has grieved all of these years for…’”
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