World War II history has always been a special interest of mine. I’m in awe of the bravery shown by the millions of men and women who served in the military and the unified efforts of the Americans at home, and, since three of my grandparents served in the military (and the fourth worked as a Rosie the Riveter) I grew up hearing family stories from that era. But in 2007, D-Day became far more personal to me.
That year I was given a box of 300 letters my grandfather had written to my grandmother during World War 2, from the time they met in June 1943 until he returned home in September 1945. The letters were carefully organized by postmark date – Gram even wrote the date she received it on the envelope. Included was a letter home written June 7, 1944.
Grandpa Steve was an Indiana boy who’d enlisted and was based at Twentynine Palms in the California desert. He and his pals would take the train into Los Angeles every time they could get a weekend pass. Grandma Dorothy was a red-headed, Irish/French native Californian who loved to dance the night away.
Growing up we’d heard the “how we met” story a million times. Grandpa and his friends went to the USO to “order up” some girls to take dancing that night, and when Grandpa and his friend saw my stunning grandmother they both wanted her to be their date.
They flipped a coin, Grandpa won, and the rest is history.
After a whirlwind six-week courtship the two were engaged, and shortly thereafter Grandpa’s unit was moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana. He dubbed her his “Chin Up” girl, probably due to her sending him pictures like this…
…and they tried to schedule a time to get married. (There was a lot more family and soap opera drama going on during that time – but I’ll leave that for the screenplay.)
Finally, Grandpa’s unit moved to Fort Dix, NJ, and they knew they’d be heading to Europe soon. Over a three-week period, they worked with the Red Cross and the Chaplain to arrange for Dot to come to New York and be married, with multiple plans canceled at the last minute. Finally, arrangements were made and Dot quickly boarded a train in Los Angeles and met him in Manhattan, where they were married on March 27, 1944.
They had most of a week together before he shipped out to England on April 3, 1944 (and the only way she knew he was gone was when he didn’t show back up at her hotel that evening).
Dot headed back to Los Angeles to work as a “Rosie the Riveter” while waiting for her husband to return. Like every other war bride, she was on pins and needles waiting to hear from Steve after the D-Day invasion. Finally, the letter arrived.
“June 7th – England
“My dearest, darling wife,
“How is my dream girl tonight? Fine, I hope. I can picture you now, darling, with your rust colored hair predominating the smudge of dirt on the tip of your nose, and you are submissive to your thoughts with a far-away look in your eye. You are asking yourself questions, particularly at this time, which thousands of mothers and wives are asking themselves. Put those thoughts out of your mind, darling, because I am in good health and feel like a million. I am not taking anything for granted because I know it is only human nature to do so. You are with me constantly, darling, because we are inseparable in mind and spirit, even if in reality we are seven thousand miles apart.
“This is a perfect night for dreaming. There’s a big silver dollar of a moon and a cool breeze floating on the air. What a night, darling. It reminds me of August 15th when I proposed to the girl of my dreams. No, there isn’t any Palm Trees or parked car in front of Mrs. Gartman’s, but just the same it reminds me of a night I’ll never forget. Though awkward it may be, I am trying to say that I love you. I love you more than seems humanly possible, but why do you have to haunt me all the time?
“How are the B-25’s coming along, darling? Every time I see one I get a funny feeling and say to myself, ‘Maybe Dot has helped put that baby into the air.’ It’s a wonderful feeling, darling. Frank was here yesterday for about an hour and we had a regular old ladies gab-fest. He told me to tell you hello for him, but from now on it is, ‘Speak for yourself, John.’
“Ha. Ha. You ought to see him. He hadn’t shaved for a week and I don’t see how he could see through his glasses they were so dirty.
“Well, darling, the day we have waited so long for has come, and on the very day, one year from the day I met you. I hope it won’t be long. Tell Mom I will write her soon. In fact, tomorrow night. I must leave you for tonight, dearest, but I will write tomorrow. That is a promise. Goodnight, sweetheart, and sweet dreams. Dream of me? I’ll be home for supper, honey.
P.S. Honey, I could use some writing paper. Also, send some cigarettes if you get any.”
What a weight must have been lifted off her shoulders to see his handwriting and know he was safe! He wasn’t in the forces that stormed the beaches on D-Day, but as part of the Signal Corps went with the allied forces into France, Belgium, Holland (where his family had emigrated from less than 50 years earlier), and then into Germany. He was in Bad Wildungen, Germany until late August, 1945, and his last letter is dated August 25, 1945, from La Havre, France.
When he arrived back in Los Angeles, they gathered the crew together and danced the night away at the Palladium. (They’re the fetching couple on the left.)
Grandpa’s June 7 letter, though noteworthy because of the event it references, is also emblematic of the Greatest Generation. They were a newlywed couple in their early 20’s facing an extended separation, war, and an uncertain future, and he found a way to mix lighthearted everyday experiences with his friend Frank in with romantic assurances that he was going to be okay.
Even from 7,000 miles away he was simply a husband doing all he could to protect his wife – while working to “liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.”