Talk about irony.
November 11, 1918 was the day that World War I ended and is celebrated as Armistice Day in some countries and as Veterans Day in the United States. Fast forward to the first day my father saw combat, November 11, 1944, in the same Alsace-Lorraine region of France that was the scene of horrific battles in WWI.
Seventy years later to the day, at the age of 91, my father remembers quite clearly the events of that day. Part of the reason he remembers so well is that he constantly wrote letters to his dad and sisters full of as much detail as the censors would allow. The other reason is that he had (and still has) an incredible memory.
As mentioned in earlier posts, Dad and I worked together to bring his letters out of a shoe box and onto the pages of a book in 2002. We called the book Got to Go Now, based on a few lines he wrote in a letter written shortly after he started fighting in France. The book was a tribute from father to son and from son to father. I wanted to pay respect for what my father had done in the war and I’m sure Dad wanted to pay respect to his dad raising him as a single father.
I shared some of his letters with the class this week and they came up with questions for Dad. I will share the questions and answers in a later post.
For now, here’s a letter he sent after being in combat for a week:
Somewhere in France
November 19, 1944
Tomorrow will make it just exactly one month that I’ve been here in France and I have already spent a week on the front lines in combat and am now back in a rest camp. I guess that ought just about set a record of some sort as most fellows are overseas for several months before they go into combat. There is not much to tell you about what I saw up on the front except to say that it’s a plenty tough life to live up there and not a single one of us like it a bit. The least amount of time I have to put in up there the happier I’ll be.
Today I’m really enjoying life again. I got to wash and shave for the first time in thirteen days and last night I had a real night’s sleep even though it was still on the ground—at least I had a tent over my head. If only I had a clean set of clothes, I’d be happy, but that’s a minor item I guess. Last night we had hot chow for the first time in about eight or nine days and boy did it ever taste good. These canned rations this Army has are okay for a few meals, but God do they ever get tiresome.
I got a V-mail, number 8, from you and an airmail from Marge today. Also got this stationery I’m writing to you on as an Xmas present from Bonnie Ewan today. Pretty nice, huh?
The weather over here in France is very similar to that on the coast except that this is quite a little bit colder here. There has been some snow but it doesn’t last long so I don’t mind it too much. One thing we have here that you don’t have at home is mud, and boy is there ever a lot of that. I’ve been walking along and all of a sudden sink clear to my knees in the gooey stuff.
Gee, but are we ever a happy bunch of guys here today. All of us are so darned thankful to be back safely from the front after seeing some of the fellows get killed or wounded. There was one kid standing right alongside of me who got a piece of shrapnel in his leg and let me tell you it scared me plenty.
Well Dad I’m going to write a few more letters today while I have the time so I’ll close for this time.
As ever, Edsel
P.S. I’m enclosing some German money, two coins & one paper note which I took from a prisoner we captured.
And from a couple weeks later, very close to the time that the Battle of the Bulge started:
France December 7, 1944
Dear Dad and Margie,
Just a short note this eve to let you know I’m still enjoying this little rest I’m having and that I received your V-mail of November 19th & your air mail of November 17th today. I also got the Xmas package you sent me Dad. Thanks a million for everything. I can really use the cigarette lighter, toothpaste, gum, combs, etc., but don’t send anymore razor blades or shave cream. We only get to shave a couple times a month so you can see what you sent me will last a long time. While I think about it Dad whenever you write instead of sending a bunch of airmail stamps just send a couple or three envelopes & a piece of paper. That way I won’t have stamps & envelopes sticking together all the time.
Today they loosened up on censorship regulations and we are now allowed to tell you officially that we are with the Seventh Army and the mountainous country I spoke of was the Vosges Mountains you have undoubtedly heard about. If you can find a city by the name of St.-Dié on the map you can see where I have been. I can’t tell you how close I am to that city now, but at least you can see how far I’ve gone since leaving southern France.
What’s the news on the war now? When do most of the news commentators and big shots think it will be over here in Europe? We don’t hear too much about it as we have no radios and only get papers occasionally.
Well I guess that’s about all for this time. Keep the letters coming and I’ll do my best to answer.
Happy Veterans Day to all those who have served in the military! Thank you for our service.