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.
June 5, 1945
It is the eve of the first anniversary of our D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. We are preparing for total memorial holiday tomorrow.
On June 5, 1944, we sat in the harbor at Plymouth, England. Exactly at the place the Pilgrims sailed from for what is today America. We saw German planes overhead attempting to destroy the invasion force. Furthermore, we were bombed, but not on such a large scale to keep us from leaving Great Britain toward France – a voyage of less than a hundred miles.
The night of June 5, 1944 saw thousands of American and British bombs pour into the Normandy beaches. Our paratroopers landed behind what was then Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and we ourselves – the First Infantry Division – stormed the beaches, together with elements of the 4th and 29th Divisions, while thousands fell alongside.
Then we established a formidable beachhead, cut the Cherbourg peninsula, captured Cherbourg, while Brest peninsula followed. Came the St. Lo breakthrough, followed by the famous Falaise Pocket trapping thousands of German troops. Paris was liberated shortly before we moved into Belgium and eventually into Germany – battles such as the Siegfried Line, Aachen, Stolberg, the Hurtgen Forest, the Roer, Dure, the Rhine, the Hanz, Ardennes, and central Germany.
We defeated the greater part of the German army in turning back the breakthrough into Belgium last December, and as a result the whole picture turned to our favor at that time.
All this took place in less than a year’s time. But from June 6, 1944 to May 8, 1945 – from the Omaha Beach to Shonbach, Czechoslovakia – men, and even American and British women, fell in order to keep their countries and others at peace.
Tomorrow we shall pay tribute to the fallen.
All over Europe – in Rome, in London, in Glasgow, in Antwerp, in Paris, in Liege, in Marseilles, in Rheims, and in Berlin – we will unite with English, French, Polish, and Russian servicemen and women to honor our dead since June 6, 1944.
There will be no joy-making. Why should there be? Instead the first anniversary of D-Day will be observed by memorial service, and here in this beautiful Czechoslovakian town, American troops will parade in mass on the town’s principal streets.
Irvin R. Schwartz,
With the U.S. First Division
At Shonbach, Czechoslovakia
June 5, 1945
Hello Mr. Reber:
Volumes have been written about D-Day (June 6, 1944) and D-plus days. They have been terrible days for everyone from general to private.
But not much has ever been said about D-minus 1 (June 5, 1944), the day of sweating out, the day on which we adjusted our pack straps on our shoulders, slung our rifles on, and marched silently onto the steel, bobbing landing ship that eventually carried us to what was at that time “unknown shores” and an uncertain fate.
The fighting men of the Fighting First had gone through intensive maneuvers in England. Many of us had some idea of what was to come. In the streets of English cities – Coventry, London, Bournemouth, Plymouth, York, Birmingham, Liverpool, Southampton, Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon – on trains, and on buses, we thought o the fate that might befall us.
But we had something that not many other divisions had. This something was acquired only by actual experience with the enemy. This something was doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right place, and at the right time. But the First Division men had plenty of this and when we got into our boats at Plymouth, England, one year ago today, we took off our heavy equipment, went out to take that look over the rail at the water below, and then realized that all that could be done for us had already been done by those in whose trust we were putting our life.
Tomorrow we shall observe the first anniversary of our D-Day landings in France. But as General Eisenhower requested in his letter which is enclosed, “formal ceremonies will be avoided,” and we will “but pause briefly to pledge anew our full energies to the task before us, and to review the momentous events of the year.”
General Eisenhower said, “Our celebration of the day should be quiet and strengthen us spiritually and physically for the coming months,” and to “renew our essential efforts to shift forces to join our brothers-in-arms against the Japanese and at the same time deal with the many remaining problems in this theatre.”
Tomorrow, June 6, 1945, we will honor those who fell beside us during the course of the past year. May God bless the thousands who became victims of German shells and bombs during World War II.
S/Sgt. Irvin R. Schwartz
Featured image: Photograph of D-Day landings at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Irvin Schwartz landed on this beach on the afternoon of D-Day.