Opinion

A father’s D-Day letter home echoes through the years

1944 Newsreel film recaps D-Day invasion

Historic United Newsreel film that played in American movie theaters in 1944. The documentary used rehearsal footage to recap the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France during WWII. (Edited from a longer film)
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Historic United Newsreel film that played in American movie theaters in 1944. The documentary used rehearsal footage to recap the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France during WWII. (Edited from a longer film)

The letter was addressed to my older brother Richard (Dick) Philip Herget, Jr., by way of my Mom, Mary Esther Herget. She and her two sons were living at the time with her in-laws in Paragould, Ark. I don’t remember when we received the letter, probably in late June or early July and I couldn’t read it since I was 3 years old.

My father wasn’t home on that day. He was overseas, a first lieutenant in 729th Ordnance Company of the 29th Infantry Division, somewhere near Stonehenge. His Supreme Allied Commander General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower had ordered him — and thousands of other GIs — to write home.

The letter was no travel guide to the English countryside or the wonderful Army chow. It was what you might expect a thoughtful dad would write a son whom he hadn’t seen in almost three years.

“Your ol’ maw wrote me about how you missed me and how you’d like to be with me again so we could play and have a good time. I miss you, too, and think about how we could go swimming and fishing together and about how we could swim around together and play with your toys,” he wrote.

The letter included several drawings. One was a pup tent: “It’s not very high but I think you wouldn’t have any trouble getting in it, and if it rained you could get inside and stay (fairly) dry.”

There were other drawings that would interest 6 and 3 year old boys: my Dad’s 45-pistol, a ship and a steam locomotive engine.

He wrote other things he and my brother would do after the war like teach my mother to swim. He reminded my brother that he was “man of the house” and he encouraged Dick to take care of his little brother who wasn’t a year old when his father sailed on the Queen Mary for England.

I didn’t get to read the letter until years later when my brother showed it to me. He has it still. What gave the letter its import was the date, June 6, 1944 at the bottom. It was my father’s letter home, as ordered, not knowing if it would be his last.

My father landed on Omaha Beach in what was called a Rhino Ferry, almost as big and as flat as a football field. It was loaded with ammunition trucks and the first truck off got stuck. My father walked down the beach and talked a Seabee with a bulldozer to pull the truck free. None of the other trucks got stuck.

My Dad rarely talked about the war but when he saw a photograph of the D-Day beaches, he remarked at how it captured the madness of the day. In the foreground, two soldiers were talking, smoking a cigarette while down the beach one body was washed up on shore and two other soldiers were desperately hugging the sand. “In one place, there was almost no fire and a hundred yards down the beach, they were catching hell,” he recalled. D-Day has always been easy for me to remember. First, the alliteration — D-Day. Everyone in my grandparents’ home talked about it, D-Day. Later, once I knew about days, months, and years, I learned it was June 6, 1944.

(Barlow Herget is a Raleigh writer and former N&O editorial writer, Raleigh City Councilor and Nieman Fellow at Harvard.)

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