This section of the letter tells of Dan’s activities and war experiences in his first few months in France.
ON THE CONTINENT
We arrived on Omaha Beach on the afternoon of July 14th. Our first home was an orchard in Hegreville (?), near Valogne (?). Almost all the towns in Normandie were gutted by the war. Valogne was a ghost town that first night we drove through. By the time we left (in Sept.) it was getting back to life but not to normal. From an orchard headquarters we went on several field jobs. I went first to a place near Isigny. It was close to the main landing beaches (Cherbourg was not yet in working order) and Jerry came over every night to mess up the shipping. Pup tents, we learned, don’t breed confidence as flak shelters. One of our men found a hole in his tent and a gash in the stock of his carbine where a piece of flak had stopped in for a visit. On the first night we had a poison gas scare. I had just left our field to look for fresh eggs when a G.I. truck came careening down the road, dust flying. A soldier was standing up yelling “GAS! GAS!” as loudly as possible. I came back to my tent and got my mask, although it seemed ridiculous that Jerry would try to drop gas on open fields several miles behind the lines. That night we heard waves of rumors that kept gas rattles buzzing. Carbines were being fired. We had orders to sleep with our masks on but later the order was made optional and off came my mask. Later we learned that the trouble had begun when some officer had mentioned that the weather was favorable for a gas attack!
My next field trip was on the Brest Peninsula. We did a job in Granville (?) and another in St. Briene (?). People in St. Briene were overjoyed to see us. Their town had been spared destruction by the Jerries who evacuated several hours before the Yanks arrived.
In Normandie I did some local work in the vicinity of St. Couvour la Vicoute (?). On Sundays I visited Cherbourg.
In the middle of September I left for Paris and stayed for about a month after which I went to Calais (Bonningues les Calais, 6 miles south of Calais). Our only excitement there was our proximity to Dunkirk where we could hear bombs and artillery at infrequent intervals. Calais was bombed accidentally by the RAF one evening about 5:30. We heard the explosions at Bonningues but thought it just another series of demolitions that had been going on for months. When we drove to town that night we learned that one of the main sections of town had been blasted with a toll of 100 people killed and many hundreds wounded! For a town the size of Calais the toll was frightful. Paulette’s mother was visiting friends in that quarter. A bomb landed about 50 meters from her! She was not injured but was quite upset as you might imagine. (This last sentence was added in 1945 because Dan has not yet met Paulette in July of 1943.)
Tomorrow I’ll post the first of two segments on the dangers Dan had to deal with during his time in England and France.
On Saturday and Sunday more letters of condolence in a Tribute to Arla.