The Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California, directed by Andrew Carroll, is an invaluable repository of the words of Americans at war. Here are excerpts that vividly recall June 6, 1944.
Pfc. Dom Bart, who was with the first wave that landed on Omaha Beach, recalled what he witnessed to his wife, Mildred:
In the far away distance, I could hear the rumble of the artillery and the brrrp-brrrp of machine gun fire.... We didn't have a chance to fight back, as we were dropped in the water over our heads. No one's fault, as the entire beach was strewn with mines. With a stream of lead coming towards us, we were at the mercy of the Germans and we had all to do to reach shore and recuperate. I floated around in water for about one hour and was more dead than alive.... Pulled myself together and sought a rifle and around I went, trying to locate my outfit. It didn't take long to spot them, and was I glad. But gracious Lord, what was left of them, just a handful, about 25 out of 160. The battalion was almost wiped out, 800 casualties out of 1,000 men.
Pfc. Charles McCallister, 101st Airborne, wrote to the mother of his cousin, Pfc. Jim Dashner, also of the 101st. He relayed what he'd been told of her son's courage on D-Day:
"Jim's section leader had been killed and Jim was in charge, so he took over the machine gun himself. The enemy had them surrounded on three sides and had them pinned down with fire. Jim took the machine gun and crawled forward to a good position and set up the gun and began firing. He was in a spot and was doing plenty of good, so the [Germans] started concentrating all their efforts on him....
His platoon leader saw they were getting close and yelled to Jim that he'd better get out of there. The boys in the platoon said it was possible Jim didn't hear, as they had never known him to refuse to obey an order. But his friends seem to think he was just mad and was doing so much good at the time, he didn't want to move. So he stayed right there and fired until his gun was red hot. Then they got zeroed in on him and landed a mortar shell right on top of him. He died instantly but his hand was still clutching the trigger. As a result of his continued fire, the platoon was able to advance on their objective.... With all my love, Charles"
Sgt. Robert Paulson, with the 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division, wrote this letter shortly after the Normandy landing:
We stopped in the English Channel, and we could see the French coast off in the distance. Two large battle ships are shelling the coast. I see a row of large airships with cables hanging down — there is a smell of gunpowder filling the air.... As we hit the beach, the large front door went down. We all walked out on the dry sand, the tide was out…. As I walked up the beach, I saw arms and legs in the channel. A head was floating not far from the beach. He looked like a young man. There was a large pool of blood in the sand. Something terrible happened on this beach.... Will have to close. I am in a foxhole not far from the channel. I have a raincoat over me to hide the candle. I hear St. Lo is our first town. Mother, I grew up today. Your son, Robert