During World War II, young couples in love, separated due to military service, had very few options to communicate with one another. There was no internet or Facebook, and no cellphones, Skype or FaceTime. Most men serving in the armed forces sent word back home by handwritten letters. Their girlfriends and spouses sent word from home by letters as well.
Like so many Americans during the war, our parents, Martha and Vince Gisriel Sr., both from Baltimore, endured the pangs of separation and the uncertainty of not knowing how the other was doing. Sometimes, it was weeks before one heard from the other. In spite of this dilemma, our parents made up for it by writing nearly 1,200 letters between them for the two years of their separation.
After months of intensive training, our father was sent to England to serve in the 8th Air Force in March 1944. He was a bombardier on a B-17 and flew 35 missions over Germany and occupied Europe. He returned stateside in September of that year.
During his time overseas, one particular letter he wrote to our mother stands out. It was dated June 5, 1944, and began by wishing his bride a happy anniversary, for they were married one year earlier. He wrote only a half page when he abruptly stopped. Three days passed before he had the opportunity to finish the letter, on June 8, 1944.
He wrote: “You are probably wondering what happened between the 5th & 8th. Well darling you will have to forgive me for not writing. Right in the middle … I was called on to perform my most important feat of this war, and I’ve been going ever since. I’ll have a lot to tell you when I get back, but can’t mention anything at the time. You might even be proud of me. … You do forgive me for not writing those 3 days, don’t you. I think you realize I had something important to do.”
Important is an understatement, for it was not a simple matter of pausing the letter to run down to the PX to pick up shaving cream or a pack of cigarettes. No, he was called upon to fly three missions on June 6, 1944 — D-Day — in support of our landing forces on the beaches of Normandy and to demolish Hitler’s communication system.
And when he finished, he picked up right where he left off — writing a love letter to our mother. On that day, he also learned that his first child had been born nearly two weeks earlier. Communication had been suspended leading up to the invasion. The sacrifices and hardships that our parents endured during the war cannot be overemphasized. However, they were just one of millions of couples all over the world who shared similar situations.
We are very proud of our father and the role he played in the war effort. We are also very proud of our mother, who waited and prayed for his safe return. One cannot forget the sacrifices of those who stayed at home and offered unending love and support for those fighting so far away. It was those at home who gave inspiration to our service members to fight hard with a reason to hurry back.
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which led to the liberation of France and the beginning of the end of Hitler’s atrocities, let us remember the sacrifices of so many of our American service members and our allies, as well as the sacrifices of an entire generation that came before us.
Vince Gisriel Jr. is the author of “Hearts Away, Bombs Away” and the eldest son of Martha and Vince Gisriel Sr. His sisters — Rita Gisriel Cole, Mary Gisriel Henn and Tracy Gisriel Krug — contributed to this op-ed. This column was written for The Baltimore Sun.