This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
A week before Allied forces launched the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, Private First Class Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, Pennsylvania took time to pen a letter to his hometown newspaper.
It was Memorial Day, May 30, 1944, and Schwartz’s letter to the West Schuylkill Press-Herald addressed the meaning of Decoration Day in his hometown and to those serving in the military in England on the eve of D-Day.
This is among the most powerful letters that Schwartz wrote during the Second World War and one that resonates down the decades to us living in the 21st century.
With the Armed Forces
May 30, 1944
Dear Mr. Reber:
As this day draws to a silent close, I think of this appropriate verse –
Now the day is over,
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.
As usual, it was another colorful day and the sunset scene, including the beautiful skies and the picturesque terrain all around, was again a picture no artist could describe with all the colors and paints on his palette. This is one thing which cannot be affected to any considerable extent by World War II, and I do wish my friends and relatives could have the opportunity of getting by actual vision a slight idea of the beauty in Old England today.
Yes, it was just another day, but May 30, 1944 was one day in the year which held a little more meaning than did yesterday or tomorrow.
To you people in the United States proper, and to the people, including us, here in our mother country, this day was Memorial Day – when weas much as present conditions permit, paid tribute to those who, in both World War I and World War II and in others, gave their lives to the cause of their country, yours and mine, so that you and I might live.
I have, in my opinion, a fairly good picture of what today, Decoration Day, is like in Pine Grove – a holiday in cases where war production allows, probably a parade, but not on par with our previous observances, and probably a resumption of the Memorial Day baseball routine. And, probably above all, you are anxiously awaiting, day and night, “D-Day and H-Hours.”
Here in England, brief observances took place in memory of the meaning of Memorial Day, and were enacted by American servicemen, British soldiers and sailors and civilians, together with members of the Royal Air Force. These programs were held in cities and towns all over Great Britain, including England, Scotland, and Wales.
Many graves of American war dead were decorated by the members of the Woman’s Voluntary Service and other women’s organizations. Many Britons joined Uncle Sam’s soldiers in observances held in military cemeteries, Army bases, and at national monuments.
A service was held this morning at the new American military cemetery in Cambridgeshire which will forever remain a tribute to the United States’ dead in this war. American and British officers participated in this service. A service was also held at St. Margaret’s in Westminster, London, and a wreath was laid for the American Overseas Memorial Day Association at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. Another wreath was laid at the Abraham Lincoln statue by the American Women’s Relief Corps. And numerous church services were held all over the country, ranging from congregations of less than 50 individuals in the little country churches to those who gathered in London, Birmingham, Coventry, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Southampton, and York.
As for my own observance of the day, just prior to Decoration Day ’44, I received the sad news of the death of my grandfather and so you understand that I had a little more reason for paying tribute. Yes, the day is over and night is drawing nigh, but I can state that this day was a memorable one here.
I hope I have given you at least a rough description of how this day passed here in this particular portion of the European Theatre of Operations.
Uncle Sammy allows us limited time, so I must close and in closing I wish to say that “Victory is already ours and will be here shortly.”
I received the Press-Herald and do express my thanks and appreciation.
God Bless You,
Irvin R. Schwartz,
On June 6, 1944, Schwartz’s 26th Infantry Regiment landed in the afternoon at Omaha Beach in Normandy. The war had truly begun for the young 19-year-old anti-tank gunner from Schuylkill County.
Featured Image: US soldiers preparing for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Photograph includes members of the 1st Infantry Division, to which Schwartz and the 26th Infantry Regiment were a part. (NARA)