I was the youngest of three brothers. During World War II, my oldest brother, David Jr., volunteered for the army. He was 17.
After basic training and short tours at various bases in the U.S., he was shipped to England to join the troops assembling there. He landed on Omaha Beach June 7th, the day after D-Day. He fought in the Normandy hedgerows and was killed in action near the small town of Marigny, about 6 miles from Saint-Lo, on August 15, 1944.
As we observed the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, I re-read some of my young brother’s letters to our family. The following are a few selections:
(From Ft. McClellan, Alabama, soon after enlistment) “Dear Edward . . . tell Queen (our collie dog) hello for me. Study hard in school and be a good boy.”
(October 7, 1943) “This war can’t last forever, and after a few months or a year it will all be over. Six months from now we will come home. Some won’t come back, but I believe that I will be one that will. Something inside of me seems to tell me that I will be spared. I believe I have something to do, and fate won’t allow me to leave it unfinished. . ..
(October 27, 1943) “After this war is over things will be swell, so don’t let the present worry you. . . . A guy really sees life when he is in the army. It has done me a lot of good, and not much harm, in any way.
(December 3, 1943) “Dear Dad . . . this life is very rugged, but I enjoy it. Conditions are not very comfortable, but every day I learn how to make better use of what I have.”
(February 7, 1944 from Fort Bragg, NC) “We are now a replacement division and won’t go over as a body, but at any time some of us may be called for overseas duty as replacements. I really don’t care if they take me. I rather want it.”
(July 27, 1944) “Dear Mother & Dad . . . if you don’t hear from me for long periods of time don’t let it bother you . . . don’t expect a letter again for a few weeks.”
(August 5, 1944) “Dad, how do you think the war is going now? Pretty good, huh? Next summer, if circumstances permit, let’s go to the mountains for a couple of weeks. Yeah, I said next summer!!”
(August 10, 1944) “It’s rather difficult to get fresh news up here, but I guess the war is going along well. I don’t see how it can last too much longer now. Give my love to John and Edward . . ..”
(From the War Department) “Dear Mrs. Briggs . . . It is with profound regret that I confirm the recent telegram informing you of the death of your son, Private First Class David H. Briggs . . . on 15 August 1944 in France. May the knowledge that he made the supreme sacrifice for his home and country be a source of sustaining comfort.”
Several years ago I visited my brother’s grave for the first time. My parents never thought it made sense to move his body from the U.S. Military Cemetery in France, as the government later offered to do.
I was awed being led down those long rows of white crosses to the one with my brother’s name on it. Taps was played in the cool air as I stood there. And although it was a recording played over the loud speaker, the effect was not at all impersonal. Each note was my heart pounding.