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Dahl Letters : Overseas

​May 1, 1944 - June 23, 1945

Letters from Harold J. Dahl

uniformed soldiers in a tank

Dahl was at Walton Hall [Wellesbourne, England] in May and June of 1944. In June, he crossed the Channel to Rubercy [France], and then on to other locations in France (La Fremondre, Torce en Charnie, Mauny and St. Germain) in August and September. On September 15, 1944, he went on to Luxembourg, and then back to France [Doncourt les Longuyons, Verdun, and Briey] from December 1944 to April 1945. On April 13, he traveled to Trier [Germany] and then on to Idar-Oberstein [Germany] in May and June 1945.

Letters from Harold J. Dahl May 18, 1944

May 18, 1944

Well, I haven’t seen very much of England but can already understand why people should want to fight for it! The whole place is so tidy Mother wouldn’t have to move a thing! ... I am comforted considerably by the scenes that are all around me - including the loveliest trees ever.  One linden must be 4 or 5 feet in diameter.  A couple of the boys are landscape men and are over whelmed ...

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl June 27, 1944

June 27, 1944

One night a few of us went to a couple of fine old taverns out in the country - had a nice meal in a Tudor atmosphere - complete with sherry, port and scotch - quite a treat.  But I’d love to sink my teeth in a good steak or some strawberries or a cherry pie! Not to mention the joy of a glass of milk - I hope it won’t always be like this.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl August 8, 1944

August 8, 1944

It is quite a thing to see the refugees on their way back to their homes - some of which are in a sorry state - not only because of battle but it seems the Germans had a way of smashing glassware & furniture & whatnot on their way out. The people certainly are glad to see the Americans, even though we must have been the ones who leveled many a poor soul’s home.  The French know what they were about when the coined the phase “C’est la guerre”.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl August 19, 1944

August 19, 1944

Life Magazine has been running lots of pictures of the War, no doubt, and if you follow it, you will see lots of the towns that I see in person.  Funny how things go - we were in one little village yesterday that was untouched and had to go around another town, recently prominent in the news, because it is rubble.  Poor people! Imagine how you would feel if you suddenly found yourself with nothing in the World but a few blankets on a wheelbarrow and all your neighbors in the same boat, - with no one to turn to but “authorities” and the kindness American soldiers show wherever they go.  We will be well-remembered here.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl September 3, 1944

September 3, 1944

It is too bad that I can’t tell you about the places I’ve seen - I hope I’ll be able to remember it all after I get home.  Probably I will, bit by bit.  One day I went thru a town and saw the subject of an etching by a man Mr. Ellerhusen once introduced me to.  It is one of my favorites so I was thrilled to see the original.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl October 15, 1944

October 15, 1944

What keeps those Germans going is beyond us - they’ve lost almost everything in the way of sources of supply, army after army, and still they prolong what must inevitably end in their complete surrender.  All they are doing in causing more men to die, more women & children, German this time, to go homeless for a dead cause.  Surely there must be some in Germany who see clearly what they are up against or must we beat it into every skull individually?  Let’s hope it will soon clear up -

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl October 24, 1944

October 24, 1944

We took a picture today of a little girl named Nettie eating out of my mess gear.  I always have to share my meals with her, - she’ll be good & fat if this keeps up - Lord knows the poor kid is skinny now and at 9 she has the body of a child of 7 and the face of a little old woman.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 9, 1944

November 9, 1944

You know, girls ought to try to get husbands who had been field soldiers - It is beyond me how anyone who had pulled KP would want to see his wife do dishes all the time, nor would anyone who had laboriously scrubbed filthy dirty OD’s & fatigues want her to do any hand laundry - and I doubt that any thoughtful guy who had ever stood guard would needlessly keep her waiting on a street corner.  Pretty good sales talk, eh?

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 21, 1944

November 21, 1944

The shoe situation here is pretty bad, especially for children - they aren’t rationed at home, are they?  Kids shoes, I mean.  Do you suppose that small girls’ shoes (age 9 & 10) would come under the 1st class qualifications as far as mail is concerned?  If so, send two or three pairs right away & fastest way ...

Hovel did a beautiful water-color the other day of a kid sitting in my lap - I’m going to have to fight to get the original but I’ll do my best.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl November 25, 1944

November 25, 1944

Now for the big news so hold on to your hats - I bought a violin! It will keep me broke for a couple of months & will mean that I won’t send any add’l money orders, but we have good fun with it and I’m sure it is a good buy.  I paid 2,200 francs for it complete with bow & case which is about $50 and I feel quite certain I can get 2 or 3 times that in New York.  It has a lovely tone - was made in 1779 and is marked on the inside “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonetis - Faciebat Anno 1779”.  It looks to me like an inferior Strad that has been somewhat abused, but it is still a pretty good fiddle and worth considerably more than $50.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl December 24, 1944

December 24, 1944

Well, we’ve made a bit of Christmas to start the tears in our eyes.  We managed to fix a tree decorated with garlands of Christmas paper, imitation candy canes, cards, and ornaments made out of the bits of metallic paper that is used to confuse things in air attacks.  We found a large package and it proved a godsend - it serves as “rain” and also takes the place of regular ornaments with some persuasion.  Then we collected a huge amount of candy, gum, rations & cigarettes, made up several dozen boxes for kids and a lot for families.  We then arranged to have a lot of kids of Nazi-deported families from Easton Europe come in after supper and each get a box of exciting things to carry home.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl January 26, 1945

January 26, 1945

I’ve seen some pretty miserable guys and also people who in this weather are forced to evacuate their homes with what they can carry on their backs, leaving their homes to be at the mercy of cold-hearted armies to whom a house is just a place where an enemy can hide.  These people around here will wash all your laundry for an unbelievably small speck of food and walk 6 kilometers to deliver it. ​Last night we collected some leftover cold cuts & Cumer took them to an Italian family who have befriended him.  There was not more than a couple of pounds of it but she told him that on the black market it would be worth the equivalent of ten dollars.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl March 7, 1945

March 7, 1945

I did some work on my fiddle the other day after a trip through a place large enough to have a music store where I could get supplies.  It really sounds fine now...

​The place where I am now is very uninteresting so I am spending my money on a couple of things I want - one, a design for a book-plate. Bruce Zillmer is making it for me - when I send it home Lou can have them printed up.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl April 9, 1945

April 9, 1945

It did my heart good to see how the place has perked up now that the war has gone so far away and so many citizens have been sent home from German camps, emaciated and weak but among the world’s happiest men.  It is far more costly to love liberty on Germany’s border than it is in the kind of place we know at home.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl April 14, 1945

April 14, 1945

We’ve been getting good news about the war & the terrible news of Mr. Roosevelt’s death.  Here in Paris the feeling of mourning is universal, both the French & the G.I. participating.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl April 15, 1945

April 15, 1945

Nancy Woodell, a California girl who is a nurse at his hospital.  She is a perfectly wonderful person - 28 years old & very cute, plenty of brains & wit and honest as they come.  Not only was she most generous about saving my money but she did me the great honor of falling for me as hard and far as a sensible person could in so short a time.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl April 17, 1945

April 17, 1945

One day Nancy had free so we walked around beautiful springtime Paris together, holding hands like a couple of silly children & happy as a lark.  ...  Part of our bliss must certainly have been the exquisite and immortal charm of Paris, part, the joy of being with an American, but a great deal the out-of-this-world feeling of two people who have found in one another an answer to many a question.  I was the happiest G.I. in Paris.

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl May 7, 1945

May 7, 1945

I don’t think any nation has ever before been as crushed and broken as Germany is now. There stands hardly a single place of manufacture, hardly a single block of stores.  And her men are all gone, either to their Maker or into prison camps.  What a crying shame it is that such a country as she was could not have seen fit to live decently.  The enormity of her crime becomes all the more obvious when one sees how far ahead of all the rest of Europe she really was. And still was not satisfied!

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl May 8, 1945

May 8, 1945

While we do not plan to do it here in Europe, Nancy Woodell and I are to be married as soon as both our G.I. jobs are done.  I know it sounds precipitous and all that, but I can assure you that I have my eyes wide open and know that I could never find a better wife. ...

Incidentally - she told me that Hovel’s sketches are to be published - whether by Brentano or not, I don’t know. He wants me to collaborate by writing comments but I don’t know if we will be able to get together on it, communications being what they are.  A letter from Paris takes 10 days to reach me!

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl May 12, 1945

May 12, 1945

Well, tonight instead of champagne I am sipping sherry - we got our VE Day ration - wine, cognac, vodka, run - and Benedictine! Real, honest-to-goodness Benedictine! ...

More & more civilians seem to come to the town every day - and, as usual, spend a great deal of time pillaging one another’s homes - I suppose we will be blamed for it.  When you see me, remind me to tell you of the wise tricks they are adopting -

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl May 18, 1945

May 18, 1945

Crider is living with another company for awhile - came down here last night & started to walk back after beaucoup champagne, etc. - come to find out today he got lost in a field and the guys from where he stays had to go get him & take him home in a wheelbarrow!

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Letters from Harold J. Dahl June 6, 1945

June 6, 1945

You will notice that this letter is the first I could write with no unit censorship ... You probably gathered from my letters that I was in Luxembourg City for the V-E day parade ... We were not all present when 5th Armored liberated the city but a few days later we worked with them in making the thing stick ... I’m permitted to say now that we have worked with all the 12th Army Group Armies - with the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th Armored, the 4th, 9th, 30th, 35th, 65th, 75th, 79th, 80th, 90th, 94th, 95th & 102nd Infantry Divisions.

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