June 6, 2019 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landings on the Normandy coast in 1944 that marked the turning point of World War II in Europe. Special Collections is proud to showcase its WW2 Servicemen’s Correspondence Collection in memory of the dozens of Aztec glider pilots, paratroopers, and infantrymen who took part in D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare.
There are at least twenty-eight letters in the WW2 Servicemen’s Correspondence Collection that pertain to D-Day. Some letters mention the build-up in England to “the big day,” others speak directly about the battle by participants, while others deal with the aftermath and the whereabouts of those involved.
A month before the invasion, paratrooper Herman Addleson wrote about “Tom Rice and Guy Sessions, buddy paratroopers. We all are going to give those Nazis hell on “D” day …”
On June 28, 1944, Tom Rice wrote “Jumped in Normandy at 1:31 am June 6, D-day. The reception which was given us was really torrid. The sky was lit up as bright as day … showery bursts of flares outlined us in the sky as we neared our drop zone. The flak was coming in the door and I could hear it clattering against the fuselage beneath me. As I left the plane my arm got hooked in the door and I was hung up with my arm inside and body outside … We organized and raised hell behind enemy lines until the Seaborne troops reached us. Gliders came in after we started on Hitler’s SS men … The gliders were duck soup for those Nazi machine gunners as they came in at about 100 feet. You can’t conceive of the magnitude of this airborne invasion, it was really gigantic.”
In France on July 13, Richard Bate wrote “the AAA outfit I’m with finally made the big jump. It was just off the beach that we saw our first “Supermen.” Hundreds of them in a big barbed wire cage. There was certainly no flag waving as we rolled inland - just a lot of solemn dazed looking people standing around their wrecked homes. Most of them practically in rags. All the towns I have visited so far have been hit very hard by the battles that have torn through them. Some are absolutely leveled to the ground … The going is pretty slow since most of it has to be hedge row to hedge row stuff pushed through by the Doughboys. I don’t see how Jerry can hold up under the terrific air and artillery pounding he is taking.”
On Sept. 28, William Boyd wrote “with a mixture of feelings – some reminiscent, some a longing for the good old days at State. There was one little fellow we all knew, Herman Addleson, who was killed on D-day, and this fellow was my friend. I can remember lying on the grass discussing our ideals and hopes … the price of this victory is written in memories of men like that … May their memories and ideals reflect in the way we live and in our accomplishments.”
From England on August 18, 1944, glider pilot Gordon Chamberlain wrote “I know of not a single glider pilot who does not respect the paratroopers in a degree heretofore unknown. These boys were at a tremendous disadvantage when they were dropped in there …” Chamberlain had written earlier in May, 1944, “Count me in on the Reunion Day when we all get back.” A year later, the Aztec News Letter reported that Gordon Chamberlain was killed in action in Germany on March 24, 1945.
The World War II Servicemen’s Correspondence Collection is now available at the Library's Digital Collections site. It consists of over 5,000 original letters from San Diego State College students on active duty in the armed forces during World War II – hand written letters received from servicemen, servicewomen, and their families sent to Dr. Lauren C. Post for his use in compiling The Aztec News Letter from 1942-46. Post was one of State’s most prominent faculty members and he started a project that would forever characterize the Aztec spirit during wartime. Lauded as one of the first of its kind in the nation, The Aztec News Letter premiered in May of 1942 and was released monthly until its 48th issue in March of 1946. The World War II Servicemen’s Correspondence Collection and the News Letter are Aztec treasures. Not only historically significant - they also offer a unique perspective about San Diego State during a global crisis.