Vice President Mike Pence honored the U.S. soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago on D-Day during a speech Thursday at the National D-Day Memorial in Virginia.
Speaking to a crowd gathered in Bedford, Va. – a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that lost 19 men on Omaha Beach– Pence thanked all the veterans who participated in the invasion on June 6, 1944.
“On behalf of a grateful nation," Pence said, “we say one more time, thank you for your service, thank you for our freedom."
Pence specifically thanked the “Bedford Boys” – the 35 men from the Virginia town who participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy. Twenty men from Bedford or the surrounding area were killed on D-Day. Nineteen fell while trying to take Omaha Beach as members of Company A of the 116th Infantry Regiment. The 20th man was in a different company.
“You stormed the beaches without fear and faced the shadow of death,” Pence said. “That such a small town could make such a sacrifice seems beyond belief.”
The decisive World War II invasion took a horrific toll on Bedford, a town of about 4,000 at the time. Its D-Day losses were among the steepest, proportionally, of any community in America.
The dead were country boys who came of age during the Depression and joined the National Guard before the war for extra income and uniforms that local girls thought looked sharp, according to author Alex Kershaw's 2003 best-seller "The Bedford Boys."
Their time in combat was short. Among the first waves in the assault on Omaha Beach, Bedford's soldiers were wiped out by Nazi machine guns and mortars within minutes after their landing craft hit the sand.
“From this very community,” Pence said. “Boys who had never ventured far from home mustered over to England, and some to eternity.”
In 1996, Congress designated a plot of land next to Bedford as the site of the National D-Day Memorial, a monument to the more than 4,000 Allied troops who lost their lives in the battle.
Pence’s speech in Virginia came hours after President Trump spoke on the edge of Omaha Beach to pay homage to the thousands of men who stormed the shore.
The speech, in which Trump and the first lady joined leaders from Britain, Canada, France - and Germany - to pay homage to the troops who turned the tide of war, capped a somber day and a string of events commemorating the legendary battle in which Allied soldiers and sailors overcame impossible odds and made unimaginable sacrifices.
“Today we remember those who fell and we honor all who fought right here in Normandy. They won back this ground for civilization," Trump said.
“To more than one hundred and seventy veterans of the Second World War who join us today – you are among the very greatest Americans who will ever live," he added. "You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Fox News’ Bradford Betz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.