What It Was Like

Four stories from the Normandy invasion.

Paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st airborne prepare to jump over Normandy on June 6, 1944. (US Army Signal Corps)
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It was the most dramatic day of the worst war in history, and many of the veterans who lived through D-Day would later tell their stories to relatives, historians, journalists, even strangers. Fortunately for the rest of us, hundreds of these accounts are archived in collections located throughout the country. Here’s a sample.

SOURCES: LOC: Veterans History Project, Library of Congress; RWN: R.W. Norton Art Foundation Oral History Project; WVHP: Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. (Excerpts have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Virginia Russell Reavis
810th Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, European Theater

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(Virginia Russell Reavis. Photo: Women Veterans Historical Project)

The first time I went over [to Europe] was D-Day plus five, because they had to get landing strips [ready] for the planes to come in. We were in old cargo [airplanes], and we converted them into air ambulances. We had about 24 litters. The [ground] ambulances would come up with litters, and we would put them on our planes.

They were bringing [wounded soldiers] into the field hospitals, and they were just kind of cleaning them up and sending them to us. Some would have grass all over them, and they all looked alike. You know, they were just men in uniforms. My second time out, we had a whole plane full, and this one on the very bottom was moaning and groaning. I looked at his card, and he had just had morphine, so I couldn’t give him any more for a while. So I said to him, “Now, let’s change your position. These are awfully uncomfortable, these old canvas stretchers. Maybe this will help.” And he started talking in German…. I didn’t know he was German till he started talking, because [the medics] were just bringing us wounded.

[An American soldier] over on the litter next to him had just been fighting…. His buddies had been killed, and here was a German, and he was going to kill him. He got up, and I was pushing him back, and I said, “I need help.” The [airplane’s] navigator came back and he helped me. I remember he said, “It’s Sunday. We’re going to England. The war for a while is over for you. Just take it easy.” He calmed him down.

[Another time] I had a whole planeload of Germans. It was a hard thing for me to do anything for them. I said, “I don’t think I can do this.” But then, I think a couple of trips later, we had some [American] infantry men, and this one boy was talking to me. They would all talk if you weren’t busy. He said that [his squad] had been cut off, and they had a lot of wounded. And over the loudspeaker, this German doctor had said, “I know you have wounded, and I know you don’t have any medic. I’m a doctor. They’re going to cease fire. I’m coming over to take care of your wounded.”

That was the best thing I could hear. I thought, “This is what it’s all about. We’re all human beings, and this is what I’m here for, just to take care of the wounded.” So I could handle it after that, and I felt that God had sent this patient to help me. (Source: WVHP)

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