Remembrance Day is November 11 – a time for us to reflect on our freedom and honour the brave men and women who served (and continue to serve) our country in both times of war and peace.
My maternal Grandfather, Mark Dalton, fought in World War II as a solider in the US Army. He died before I was born so I never did get the chance to get to know him. But much of his life as a soldier lives on in the forms of wartime letters my Grandma has kept over the years. Worn and yellowed, these letters serve as a window to my family’s past. The letters, sent from my Grandpa to various members of his family, span from May of 1943 to November of 1945.
They paint pictures of what life was like for a 19-year-old boy who would become a soldier and fight for our freedom on the frontlines in Europe. When I was 19, my biggest concern in life was playing Mario Kart in the lounge at my University's residence. The only bullets I had to dodge were the virtual ones in video games like Goldeneye.
Below are a few brief excerpts from the letters my Grandpa sent; from his time training in the US to his time in Europe. These are tiny snapshots of a fraction of the letters he sent. But I hope they offer small glimpses into his life during the war.
Reading them, I am so grateful for the sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers made. And I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be here at all considering how he narrowly dodged death while fighting in Belgium.
July 19, 1943, Fort Custer, Michigan
“To-day there are a lot of proud but a little sad families and sweethearts visiting their soldiers of a week or so. A lot of the boys find it a little tough when they haven’t been away much before. We get up at 5:30 every morning and scrub the barracks before chow but you have to get to bed early. Life is not too bad in camp there is a lot of entertainment but it's all pretty crowded.”
No date or location mentioned
“Well honey my dirty rifle is staring me in the face so I guess I will have to clean her up put a coat of oil on her (a nightly procedure) and put her to bed for the night. So I better cut this short now.”
Oct 25, 1943, North Camp Hood, Texas
“To-morrow we go out again and will be out most of the week so again I won’t be able to write. It's been quite warm here hot when you work. There wasn’t many casualties on the B C course. A couple of broken legs a shot in the shoulder and a few scratches. The extent of my wounds was a few rips in my fatigues. To-morrow - Sunday we start out again at 8 A.M. and march about eighteen miles and keep marching around most of the week. Then our basic will be over and we will be soldiers.”
Oct 25, 1944, somewhere in England
“England – at least this part of it is rather hilly the fields are small and of course there are the hedgerows around each. There are many beautiful old homes with their court yards etc etc. There is a blackout every night and it is quite dark. You can see the effects of the bombings in the towns but that is restricted material.”
Nov 17, 1944, somewhere in Belgium
“It was nice in England when we left. I wish I could say the same for this place. It is snowing here and the mud is ever so deep – our feet are never dry or warm – but ‘c’est la guerre’. I cannot say if we will see action soon but if we do I want you to know that I am prepared for it at least spiritually if not physically however never cease to pray for me – this is not an easy life… I guess I’ve seen a lot of things that some people would give a lot to see – but as some one else said – army routine dominates all and makes the spectacular seem commonplace. You aren’t inclined to give much of a damn if you are looking at a structure of the stone age or if you are walking on a road the Romans trod - when your back is breaking under the weight of all your earthy belongings… If ever you send anything make it something to wear – some good wool socks and a muffler perhaps– forget the eats - of course I’d like something to eat – but right now I’m looking forward to the day when I’ll be warm and dry again.”
Dec 6, 1944, Field Hospital in Belgium
By now you must be quite worried about me. Doubtless you have been notified long before this that I was wounded. It was a shell and it got me pretty good. I don’t see any reason for pulling any punches cause eventually I’ll be as good as new. A piece of shrapnel went through my left arm above my elbow another entered my left. I got some in the right leg and back but no bones broken. My most serious injury was in the stomach, I got a hole [in] my main intestine and one in another. That’s going to take a while to heal up four or five months probably before I’m completely cured. I don’t know if it means ticket home or not. I’m still in a field hospital in Belgium. I expect to be moved back to an evacuation hospital in a few days and eventually get to a General.”
Feb 2, 1945, O’Reilly General Hospital, Springfield Missouri
“I reckon the Lord musta foreseen some of them prayers when that 88 shell started for me cause a thing like that usually leaves you scattered around in little pieces but for me I almost feel a little ashamed to be on this side of the ocean but that ain’t saying I’m not glad to be here. Well anyway the piece of shrapnel that went into my middle went through my leg first so didn’t do too much damage but they seem to think there is something in there – it does not bother me in the least. Well anyway my stomach is still open cause I have a clostomy you can find out what that is from some of your friends at the hospital. It's ready to be closed up now but they have to build up sulfa in my blood first so I consume five horse pills every four hours along with a variety of others. I should not say that the shrapnel went through my leg – or thigh cause it came out only about three inches from where it went in and made quite a hole but by the grace of God missed the main blood vessel and so I’ve still got my leg and it's just as good as it ever was cause it's all sewed up now and is good as the other. The only other wound of any account that I received was in my upper left arm and here again I think the Lord showed a little partiality cause He got that piece between a blood vessel and a bunch of nerves that was almost impossible to do and so my arm isn’t paralyzed like it could have been in fact there just ain’t anything wrong with me now except my middle. I did get a few more little pieces here and their but they ain’t worth mention. I’m up and around all I want to and the only thing that keeps me in bed most of the time is sheer laziness. The fact of the matter is I fear that you folks did a lot more suffering than I did.”
This Remembrance Day, be sure to take some time to stop, reflect and give thanks to the men and women that fought and died so we can live in peace and freedom. If you’re looking for ways to commemorate Remembrance Day this year, check out Veteran Affairs Canada’s website for 50 Ways to Remember
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