Letters From France: Dealing With The Most Gruesome Parts Of War
With Memorial Day right behind us and D-Day just ahead of us, now is the time for us to remember the sacrifices made by so many of our brave countrymen. Being raised by a two-branch veteran, this has always been extremely important to me. Over this past weekend, however, I saw that this is far less important to some of our most notable politicians, including our own President and Vice President. You may recall Harris’s tweet about “enjoying the long weekend” or Biden’s message for us to all “stay cool.” Even Cuomo decided to chip in with a message about “honoring essential workers” on Memorial Day.
I normally use this platform to write scathing criticisms of political happenings, but today I want to share something very dear to my heart in honor of both Memorial Day and D-Day. I hope that in doing so, I will give you greater insight into the harsh realities of war and help to educate you on a topic that is seldom discussed in history books.
My great-grandfather, “Pop,” served as a Pharmacist’s Mate in the Navy during WWII. His service would take him to North Africa and later to France. On June 6th, 1944, he found himself aboard LCI 229, sailing towards the beaches of Northern France in the sixth wave of the Allied invasion. His duties as a Pharmacist’s Mate required him to administer medical assistance and treatment to sick or wounded sailors, usually aboard the ship. Although he brought back several interesting souvenirs from the invasion, including his ship’s flag, seashells, bullets, casings, and even shrapnel, he never ventured very far into the details of what he saw that day.
That experience, however, would not be the most gruesome ordeal he would have to witness in his service to this country. As the war ended in victory and our men came home to their families, Pop instead returned to France. This time, none of the soldiers he encountered were living.
Being an undertaker back in his small hometown in Florida, he started working for the Graves Registration Service after the war. The GRS (now known as Mortuary Affairs) was created in World War I to organize the retrieval, identification, transportation, and burial of the dead. The next part of this article will consist of excerpts from the letters he wrote home to my great-grandmother during that time:
“Darling, I am so tired and worn out until I am sick. I am very home sick and sick of this kind of work. I know I will get use to it sooner or later but right now it is hell. You would not believe me if I were to tell you just what we were doing. I know that no one will believe me when I tell them. I just don’t believe that I would have believed anyone that told me."
"You stand for 8 hours on your feet and work. My feet, back and hands are so sore and tired. I will not tell you just what I do but I will say that I process between 22 & 25 bodies a day. There are 14 tables in the morgue each with three men (1 embalmer and two assistants)."
"We live in hotels here in Nancy but why they call them hotels is beyond me. The rats will eat your shoes if you leave them on the floor at night. The maid will steal your cigs & soap if you don’t lock them up. What a life. And just think I have a year of this to do. The wind keeps my face and lips chapped all the time. What a life. I have told you only a part of the hardships we face here in everyday life. The good parts I haven’t found yet.”
“I pray for you darling all day long to give me the strength to go through with this so I can send you money. When I get in at night I cry when I think of Jimmy, Sylvia & Carolyn. I really know that you & I are making a big sacrifice for their happiness. Our happiness must come later but how long can we stand this. I will write you more often when I get over the shock & when I am not so tired. With all my heart I love you. I will always be true to you.”
“I will be so glad when my trunk arrives. I had to buy a pair of shoes to work in. They told us so many lies just to get us here. They don’t furnish us one damn thing. We pay for everything. I am feeling fine now as I have a few friends among the boys here so I am not so lonesome. I sure hope I receive a letter from you soon. Give my love to Jimmy, Sylvia and Carolyn. You will never know how I miss all of you.”
“Darling, this morning I received my first mail from you. One letter dated May 19. Oh! How glad I was to hear from you. The letter was started May first and that being our 10th anniversary your thinking about it all day made our minds close together. Your letter has made me cry often today. I have read it over and over and still I want to be a cry baby. I have tried not to write you of how lonely I was but after your letter I can hardly stand it. My hardships are so small in comparison to yours. We must try to keep our chins up and work and plan for a better tomorrow, must not run out of money. I just can’t stand to think of you being so broke."
"The children remembering me is wonderful but their crying will pass with the time. Don’t let them worry you too much. You must not work so hard either. I like to think of you laughing, playing bridge, dancing, and even sleeping. Your happiness and the children’s is my first objective. My coming over here was a big mistake but I could not make matters better by quitting and coming home. I give myself this pep talk every day. I have to or I would catch the next plane home.”
“The cold here in this part of France is almost more than I can stand. I hate to go to bed, I hate to get up, going to work is hell, taking a bath is just too much. I am just tired of being cold. I must buy an overcoat and long underwear but I hate to spend the money. I only weigh 175 lbs now and if this keeps up my clothes won’t fit me. I don’t have a cold yet but I don’t know why." Darling this year is going to pass fast only if we work hard and stop crying and writing of our hardships. I know I will always love you with all my heart and more each day.”
“I have lots of friends and boy that is a blessing. You must get along with the boys or you are just out. I play ping pong every night to pass the time away. I am getting real good. I sure miss Jimmy. I think of him often and love him so much. My two girls are just too wonderful. Little Carolyn is my dream girl. How I would love to hold her. Sylvia I often cry about. She is so sweet and pretty. What a wonderful family we have. Surely we can fight a little harder to make them happy. You and I have our love for each other."
My grandpa wearing a sailor's uniform to match his dad.
I have an entire binder full of these letters, but the parts I just shared are the ones that move me the most when I read over them. I regret that I did not get to spend more years of my life with this wonderful man, but I cherish the memories of picking oranges and grapefruit from the trees in his backyard, laying on the floor with him watching Popeye, and hearing him sing “You Are My Sunshine” with my great-grandmother when she was in a nursing home struggling with Alzheimer’s. He was a joyful man with a great sense of humor.
I hope that he knew that the sacrifices he made working for the GRS meant everything to the families of the fallen who he helped to identify and get to their final resting places. His hardships then have made it possible for people to honor their loved ones each Memorial Day and I know that he also helped to prevent many brave men from joining the fallen as he tended their wounds aboard LCI 229 on D-Day.
For him and for so many others, Memorial Day has always been so much more than just a “long weekend” and I wish that I could put some of our insensitive and ignorant politicians in his shoes, or the shoes of any of our servicemen and women who know what it means to serve. If AOC saw what Pop must have seen, I doubt she would have the audacity to claim she effectively “served in a war” on January 6th.
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About the Author:
Erin Fitzgerald Adair is a political commentator known as @Always.Right on Instagram. She attended college for Political Science and History, formerly hosted a weekly podcast, and recently worked on a congressional campaign. Erin is a “Cav Kid” from Georgia who now splits her time between there and Florida. She is passionate about advocating for gun rights, free speech, and our constitutional liberties while speaking out against abortion, censorship, and cultural marxism.