I have a friend who lost touch with her father due to a divorce when she was about five-years-old. Much later in life she connected with cousins who were able to tell her about her biological father.
As it turns out my friend’s father was a member of the 101st Airborne Division, 327th Glider Infantry from 1943 to the end of the war. He and his unit saw major action including Normandy, Market Garden and Bastogne. His name was Cpl. Herb Lehnen and he wrote numerous letters from the front to various members of his family and friends. One of my friend’s cousins is in possession of 80+ of these letters and my friend gave me the two she had. She gave me permission to reproduce them on my history blog.
The first one is dated June 26th, 1944 and was written when Herb’s unit was engaged in the Carentan Peninsula.
Background to where the 327th was and what it was doing around the time of writing
Normandy – D-Day
In June 1944, the decision to drop both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions simultaneously into Normandy reduced the number of available aircraft to tow the gliders for a glider assault. The 327th Glider Infantry Regiment was ordered to land across Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division on D-Day. Its mission was to move to Carentan to cut off the fleeing Germans. Although casualties were high, the mission was accomplished and the regiment moved back to England to prepare for its next mission. http://www.ww2-airborne.us/units/327/327.html
Although ostensibly the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment during World War II was a part of the 101st Airborne Division, the majority of this unit landed by sea on Utah Beach the afternoon of D-Day +1, 7 June 1944, due to a shortage of glider tow planes. Some elements did reach shore on 6 June, but due to rough seas, beach traffic, and the fact that the paratroopers of the 101st had already achieved many objectives, the landing was delayed. The 327th suffered a few casualties going ashore by enemy fire and were strafed by enemy aircraft. Near Ste. Come DuMont (southeast of the village), the 327th was camped right next to German paratroopers, separated by thick hedgerows. German speaking soldiers in the 327th engaged in taunting the enemy. The 327th took several casualties by enemy mortars. By 8 June, the 327th had entered the front line, largely in reserve of the 506th until crossing the Douve River near Carentan. First and Second Battalions guarded Utah Beachhead’s left flank northeast of Carentan. Company C was hit hard by friendly fire mortars while crossing the Douve. Official findings blamed enemy mines. Company B also suffered casualties in the incident.
The 327th suffered heavy casualties while advancing on Carentan via what is now the city Marina from a northeast direction and other casualties approaching Carentan from the east. G Company led the attack on the west bank of the marina canal. A Company of the attached 401 was on the east bank of the canal. Concealed German machine guns and mortars inflicted the most casualties. Chaplain Gordon Cosby earned a Silver Star for bravery in the face of the enemy for assisting wounded glider men in front of heavily armed German soldiers. The 327th played a pivotal role with the 501st and 506th of the 101st in taking Carentan. The 327th marched through the town and East to be possibly the first unit of the Utah Beachhead to link up with the Omaha Beachhead around the four-villages area of le Fourchette, le Mesnil, le Rocher and Cotz. It was then directed South between the bulk of the 101st and the 75th Infantry Division of the Omaha Beachhead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/327th_Infantry_Regiment_(United_States)
It is an honor for me to reproduce Herb’s letter. I hope it’s a tribute to all the men and women who served our country during WW2. Here’s the letter dated June 28th, 1944. My commentary is in italics:
Eddie is Herb’s brother and in the Army, but did his service stateside. Blanks are words I could not make out from the copy.
I sure was ______ glad to receive your two swell long air mail letters, also Eddie. I’m glad you had a swell time on your last furlough home. I’ll try to answer your swell letter when I have a few hours of spare time.
I found the use of the word “swell” to be common in Herb’s two letters. It’s a word seldom used now but it meant “great” and was American slang at the time.
Well, Eddie, the great invasion [Normandy Invasion, June 6th, 1944] but I’ll never forget the great ______ and adventures I had, since we hit France. Yes, Eddie our airborne division did a great job which was plenty tough and really rugged. I would like to tell you all about our thrills but I can’t because of the dam censor! However, I suppose you read all about it in the papers. There some Germans ______dam good fighters, but we are better. Eddie, I wish you could see my fox hole it’s really a ______ (peach?) about six feet deep and on top I have it covered with slits for protection from the dam German 88mm guns which is really wicked. I don’t mind machine gun fire or rifle fire but that dam 88mm gun is the one that is really tough,
The Germans referred to here were German paratroopers of the 6th FJR (von der Heydte) and soldiers from a SS Panzer Grenadier Division and as such were elite troops. Herb must have been sensitive to what was acceptable for him to write as the letter does not have anything blocked out by a sensor. I found it humorous that he referred to the censor as the “dam censor.”
I have lots of German ______ some coins, also some of their ______ which the Germans use every once in a while. I could have had lots of German guns; but Eddie, its to much extra stuff to carry. As it is I carry my sub machine gun, lots of bullets and my trench knife always on my side-you have to travel real light.
Herb was a corporal and the standard issue to para NCOs would have been the Thompson submachine gun.
Eddie, its plenty tough and rugged here, very ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ for Germans, however we have things under control now. (I believe he is making reference to the difficult terrain around Carentan that favored the Germans who were defending.) Now, at night Eddie, we slept in our fox hole with our guns always at our sides and our trench knives right by our head just in case a German gets to close.
The French people always bring us plenty of apple cider to drink! Also they treat us pretty good. I haven’t seen a good looking French girl yet. I can’t figure out where they are at.
Food and girls, common concerns for most GI’s. Most of the girls would probably be in hiding safe from German or American soldiers is my guess.
Yes, Eddie, your right the Army surely does things which are really stupid-you’ll never use ( 1/2 fraction here?) of that stuff in combat.
Yeah, cause you have to lug it around.
Eddie, just use your head, don’t work to hard and if its possible try like hell to get reclassified because your eyes are in no shape for a combat outfit.
Very interesting line imo. Herb is obviously very concerned about his brother and not in the least resentful that he is in combat and his brother is not.
I hope and pray that you will never leave the states. I’m sure we’ll have this war in Europe over with pretty darn soon.
Many GI’s thought the war would be over by Christmas, 1944.
Eddie, just about all the guys are dam glad they are married, so don’t let the dam war stop you from getting married. I’ll be around good old Wisconsin by Christmas time then Eddie we’ll really celebrate the good old days.
Another interesting insight into the mindset of these combat soldiers. Most are happy to be married. They might be thinking about French girls and food but thoughts of home and hearth is want they really want.
Judging from the other letter I’ve seen Herb did not make it home for Christmas. He was in the Battle of the Bulge at the time. The 327th earned an impressive citation for their work there.
Thanks a million, Eddie, for getting the gift for ______ for me. I don’t ______ ______ I’ll ______ repay you for all that you have done for me. Eddie, I have my bonus money made all ready-you have $300.00 for being ______ a certain length of time.
Well Eddie, I’m giving every cent of that to your ______ as gift. Your tops with me Eddie, no one can compare with you-just take good care of yourself and don’t worry because everything will turn out ok.
$300.00 in 1944 was not small change. Herb is quite a guy judging from this letter. I am unsure what the bonus was for since I think the draft was for the duration. Perhaps he had to re-enlist as a para and that’s what the bonus was for.
Oh! I wrote those letters home to the folks last week. I’ll write you whenever possible, so please don’t worry.
We’ll meet again and dam soon-you can bet on that Eddie, I’m looking forward to out meeting.
As I said, like most soldiers of all nations they just want to finish the war and go home.
God bless you and always keep you in good health. Hello to Irene for me. Take good care of yourself Eddie and try like hell to get reclassified, I wish you ______ ______ ______ success always.