Letters from the Front
Because letters home were often censored, families and friends of soldiers were often unaware of their loved-ones’ locations and duties. Nevertheless, soldiers’ words relay the many emotions experienced by the men who fought on D-Day. Many of the details of the landing were only learned by friends and relatives long after the battle ended.
Read a few letters written by American soldiers in Europe after D-Day.
|France, July 22, 1944Darling:
…Yesterday I had to visit all the units again, to get statements for my report. The regiment is in contact with the enemy, so such trips always have their skin-prickling moments. I got back pretty tired about 7 o’clock, just in time to get a phone call from the CO of one of Sirrine’s battalions, also in the line, requesting me to come up to discuss personal problems of his body-guard, a fine young fellow who had simultaneously received word that his sister, an army nurse, and a brother, a flyer, had both been killed in the So. Pacific, and that his remaining brother had been critically wounded with another division here in France.
While up there, I hit the favorite hours for Jerry’s activities, and, frankly, pretty nearly had the pants scared off me, with samples of shelling, mortar-fire, and strafing. I got back at midnight, having driven the jeep myself all day (my driver being on guard) slipping and slewing through mud axle deep whenever I got off the surfaced roads, which was frequently. I hate to admit it, but after a day like that, I feel my years. Yeah, man! War is a young man’s game!…
News on 90th has been released. Maybe you know something now of what the boys have gone through: constant contact with the enemy since D-Day. They’ve taken their losses, too. Somebody says “Old Bill got it today.” “No!” you say. “Son-of-a-bitch!” And you go on about your business, with a little more emptiness inside, a little more tiredness, a little more hatred of everything concerning war.
There is a certain cemetery where some of my closest friends in the division lie. I saw it grow — shattered bodies lying there waiting for graves to be dug. Now it is filled. The graves are neat and trim, each with its cross. Occasionally I visit it when passing by. Always there are flowers on the graves: Sometimes a potted geranium has been newly brought in; sometimes there is a handful of daisies. The French people, especially the children, seem to have charged themselves with this little attention. Our bombers are roaring overhead just now, in the hazy afterglow of sunset. In a few seconds I’ll hear the crunch of bombs — a good-night kiss for the Nazis. There they go!
The war news is good; but we’re fighting over optimism. I suppose people at home are elated; the boys up front are still in their fox-holes.
I’ll try to write at least a note every day or so. Take care of yourself. I’m fine.
|Belgium, November 19, 1944I hardly know how to begin after such a long time and I really have been sweating it out.
But speaking of sweating things out, in the past two weeks there was a few mornings that really called for a good deal of sweating out. It used to be fairly peaceful to lay in our foxholes but these particular mornings there was plenty of big stuff falling nearby. I never was too scared of the stuff until then. We happened to be about eight miles inside of Reich and the artillery was coming from all directions. Everytime a shell started to whistle in, I was beginning another prayer. As one of the ‘doughfeet’ put it, “I may not get the Purple Heart for being wounded but if they give them out for being scared as hell I certainly rate one,” and that’s no kiddin’…
|Holland, February 22, 1945Dear Ms. Troby,
…the gents that I speak of down here are usually known but to a few — and ask no publicity. There are some of the officers and NCOs who live down there in hell — just a few miles from here — and they stay there days, weeks, and months, until they are killed. There are just a few. They teach men, feed them, protect them, and lead them sooner or later into the jaws of a hell that is the bloodiest, dirtiest, most vicious kind of murder that man, with all his machines, has been able to devise.
These men are loved with a kind of love that exists no place but on the battlefield — and it is never talked about. These gents go for days without sleep, give away their clothes, go without food, keep going when they are sick, perform miraculous feats when they are wounded, and take the suicidal details rather than ask someone else to do it. They are never afraid, they are never cold, they never complain, and they spend all of their time trying to think of ways to help their men — and to save them. I don’t know if they are happy — but if it isn’t selflessness I never hope to see it.
And I don’t mean to leave out the privates — but the officers and non-coms are the ones I’m thinking of. Remember I said there were just a few like this. The stories come trickling in every once in a while. They usually stay there until they die. Surely they must be God’s people. He was like that. I’m sure they swore and drank and did a lot of other things — but I am sure God got them when they went away…
|France, May 20, 1945Dearest Loa,
Still here in France, and will be for another ten days, I guess. I don’t know for sure what’s holding us up; ships, processing or what; but that’s the way it is. I think I ought to be home before June 25th though. That’ll make it about an even year since I was home last, huh? Mighty long time! Honey, I just don’t know what to say. I guess I know so little about what is going on and has gone on, at home. I guess I’ll just have to wait ’til I hear from you. — I sure hope I can get you by phone when I hit the states!
And by the way, Punkin, don’t pay any attention to all the stories in magazines, etc., about the returning boys being strangers and having to be re-adapted and how to treat them, etc. — They’re just the same, and they want the folks at home to be just the same too. So don’t be worrying about how to treat me, or any such thing. Just pretend I’d never left — and I’ll do the rest!
I Love You Sweets,
|France, June 10, 1945Sweetheart,
Went to church tonite. I was delighted again to see colored and white boys worshipping together. I sure hope some of the principles of democracy learned in the army will carry on after the war. — Boy am I messing this up! — Poor pen! I don’t know if it’ll last through this letter or not.
Wish I knew how you’re making out, Honey. — New Pen — If I’d known I would be here this long, I’d have managed to get an answer somehow. But they keep telling us — “You have to be out by June first” and such stuff — However, if the latest rumor develops, I’ll be on my way the 13th and in the states by the 20th
I think of you so much, Honey and wonder how you are, what you are doing, etc. It makes it hard to write not knowing a thing about home.
Someone on the radio is singing “Always.” — I will be loving you always, Dearest. And right now, I’m wanting you so much I can hardly stand it. — Be with you soon though. — By the way, things change pretty rapidly in the army, but right now the War Dept. says Ex P.W.’s won’t be deployed to the Pacific — and that suits me. — See you soon, sweets. — Loads of Love Always. In fact, all my Love always!!
|The long low dark coast of Europe looms aheadAt dusk on July 29th my convoy of ships, largest of the war since D-Day, reaches broad sandy Utah Beach on the Normandy Coast. Like Omaha Beach a few miles o the north and clearly visible below its bluffs, Utah was the scene of D-Day landings by our troops nearly two months ago. But here there are no bluffs and resistance was weak rather than strong as at Omaha. Gentle meadows spread inland. The beach swarms with men and machines. It is the chief port of entry for U.S. forces invading France. In the distance anti-aircraft shells explode n the evening sky and a dull roar of heavy artillery marks the front line. Dozens of barrage balloons, like big sausages tethered to earth by cables, float close overhead to protect the landing area from low-level air attack.
Shortly before midnight our blunt-nosed L.S.T.’s scrape their flat bottoms to a halt in shallow water three hundred yards from shore. In the morning when the tide recedes they open their bow doors and the jeeps and trucks of the 825th Tank Destroyer Battalion, followed by half-tracks towing 3-inch guns, emerge onto hard-packed sand nearly as firm as tarmac and move inland.
We’re part of General George S. Patton’s U.S. 3rd Army and Patton is already legendary. In Sicily he slapped the face of a combat-fatigues G.I. for speaking in a hysterical manner. but in Sicily as in North Africa he distinguished himself as a fighting leader. Now his mission is to lead the 3rd Army in a breakthrough that will reach toward Paris and beyond. The fact he comes from Los Angeles adds to my interest. Before sailing I’d read with amusement his fiery exhortations included among routine information in the mimeographs poop sheets distributed daily to all 3rd Army units: “Grab the enemy by the nose and kick him in the tail!” Or: “When in doubt, do something!” I hope to catch a glimpse of the eccentric general who reportedly wears a six-shooter at his hip in open holster and addresses poems to the God of Battles.
Our first evidence of actual battle is anything but poetic. Behind a wall-like hedgerow is a series of abandoned foxholes, each surrounded by a litter of used K-ration cartons, tin cans, empty cartridge casings, dried human feces. This has been the front line. It is eloquent of a new reality, the feces perhaps most eloquent. There’d been no time to relieve yourself leisurely, cover your deposit afterward, and no such niceties as toilet paper. Like an animal afraid for your life you jumped out of your hole, excreted, jumped back in. The dead or wounded had of course been removed to the rear long before we passed. The able-bodied had gone forward as we were going. Again the courage and blood of others paved the way.
At Sotteville not far from the Cherbourg the 825th is deployed as a security force guarding lines of communication, watching for German stragglers and French or German spies and saboteurs, while the rest of 3rd Army prepares for its historic breakout.
Meanwhile Jane is gently influencing her mother toward selling their home at 317 Burlingame Avenue and moving to Santa Barbara, as a decisive step in coping with the sorrow of her father’s death. The children continue to be a source of life and hope for them both, as they crave yet dread each day’s mail, newspaper, radio broadcast.
Read more letters from soldiers in American wars on the American Experience Web site War Letters.
This article originally ran on the PBS website.