This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian
June 6, 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The Allied Invasion of Normandy was the largest seaborne invasion in military history. Allied troops consisted of approximately 150,000 service members representing the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Norway and numerous other countries. This strategically organized operation paved the way for the attacks against German-occupied Western Europe, led to the restoration of the French Republic and contributed to a victory for the Allies in World War II. The long-fought battle was not without errors in planning and execution or severe consequences.
On that first day of battle, there were an estimated 12,000 Allied casualties, over 4,000 of which were men killed in action. Allied codenames for beaches along the 50-mile stretch of Normandy were: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword. Omaha suffered the most casualties. Those who lost a loved one as a result of D-Day may beg to differ with the June 7, 1944 headline from Daily News that claimed, “Landings in France made at small cost in men…”
Planning for Operation Overlord, the name assigned to the large-scale assemblage on the Continent, began in 1943. In January 1944, General Eisenhower arrived in England to take command of the invasion forces. Training maneuvers for this amphibious invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune, began shortly thereafter. The photo above shows U.S. troops waiting for orders during pre-invasion training maneuvers.
An armada stretched across the ocean replete with battleships, cruisers and destroyers. Bombardment ships moved in closer to shore and opened intense fire against the Nazi pillboxes, gun emplacements and entrenchments. Allied troops were supported by an astounding 5,000 ships and landing craft, 50,000 vehicles and 11,000 planes. Among the vessels contributing to the Battle of Normandy was the U.S.S. Nevada, which had also served during WWI. The U.S.S. Nevada was praised for “her incredibly accurate support of beleaguered troops” during the invasion. She was also the only battleship to be present at both the Pearl Harbor and Normandy landings. Below, sailors watch as the U.S.S. Nevada makes her way up the Hudson River carrying troops returning from Europe.
While correspondence was being censored by the military during WWII in an effort to ensure safety, service members wrote many letters home and vice versa. Communicating with family and friends provided a soldier, sailor or airman an opportunity to step outside the battle zone or military training for a moment to connect with a life that probably seemed a world away at the time. The following letters were written by soldiers stationed on base in the U.S. ,who shared what brief news they could with loved ones back home.
In Dewayne Lundgren’s June 7, 1944 letter to his girlfriend, he writes:
“I guess you know by now the invasion has taken place. It didn’t cause much excitement here though. We all have been waiting for it so darn long. The only thing that we all are thinking about is that we hope it didn’t cause to many lifes.”
His girlfriend, Bertha, served in the United States Cadet Nurse Corps.
William E. Tufts, Jr. wrote the following lines to his father from Camp Swift, TX, on June 8, 1944:
“Well the Second Front has finally started. I heard about it the morning it began but have had no news since.” Before signing off, he says, “Hope this lousy thing is soon over.”
In autumn 1944, Captain David Mark Olds, Radio Officer, was still stationed in France. He’d sustained several injuries as a result of fighting in the Battle of Normandy, including shrapnel wounds and a punctured ear drum. The personal photographs he took reveal the devastation caused by bombings in the city but also display the camaraderie, and even a sense of humor, among he and his fellow soldiers. Taken at the enlisted quarters in Sarralbe, France, this image features a life-size sketch on the wall adjacent to the top bunk. The caption on the back of the photo reads, “A soldier’s loveliness epitomized”.
To all veterans, thank you for your service and dedication!