A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Object Thursday: D-Day Diary

RHiX17620w copy

Helen Clark Grimes, ca. 1936. RIHS MSS 983.

69 years ago today, the Allies launched the invasion of Europe. Many of us are familiar with D-Day from the famous images made by Robert Capa, from Saving Private Ryan, or even from The Longest Day. We might use “D-Day” without ever connecting to what it meant for men deep in the English Channel, or for the “folks back home.”

The RIHS holds the diaries of Helen Clark Grimes which record her perceptions and experiences from 1931 through Christmas, 1945. Below is an excerpt from her entry for this day:

June 6— Well, this is it. The Invasion has started. This morning we heard the broadcast while we were preparing to leave for the office. I was combing my hair before the dressing table, the bedside radio tuned in and Dorrance’s eyes and mine met and held in the mirror for a shaken, breathless second.

Emily and Evelyn drove up with the car radio turned on, and so intent were we [that] we barely spoke, conscious only of the commentator’s voice and the millions of butterflies let loose in our stomachs.

Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching "Omaha" Beach on "D-Day", 6 June 1944.Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching “Omaha” Beach on “D-Day”, 6 June 1944.Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

I noticed a man carrying flats of rather yellow tomato plants; the flags on war memorials renewed last week, flashed past in my eyes. I glanced at the Honor Roll, wondering briefly how many we think living are now among the dead. The brilliant colors of the blooming rhododendrons cling in my mind.

In spite of radio, newspapers have a certain reality at a time like this. One can clutch a newspaper. I think everyone in the city had one, although due to the paper shortage no extra has been put out.

There were even newspapers spread wide in the crowded elevator and no one thought of complaining and those who were not reading were talking as if wound up.

The lunch tables in the locker room rustled with newspapers. Movies, dresses, and men as individuals, were for the time being forgotten.

“Well, girls, here it is.”

“Thank God, Bill isn’t in that area.”

“Her husband is a parachuter [sic].”

“Will it be long now, or will it take years?”

No loud excitement, only a sense of strain.

We know how it all turned out, in the end, but on the day of the invasion and on the days following, there was no certainty about the war’s outcome.

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections


2 comments on “Object Thursday: D-Day Diary

  1. Robin
    6 June 2013

    Nice to see Helen honored too along with the soldiers in Normandy that day.
    Helen’s #1 fan, Robin

  2. Nancy Nichols
    9 June 2013

    Thanks! My father in law was there, on Day 3, tho as he was with the Quartermaster Corps, he saw a different kind of war. My dad was very lucky, as he was still in medical school.
    What a great subject for a retrospective! The BBC website has a whole host of reminiscences. You can search by topic, too.
    Nancy N

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