No letter from René on August 19, 1944 – the day the Liberation of Paris begins – but here’s a heart-breaking excerpt from the journal of Dr. Philip Westdahl.
On August 18, I had one of the greatest shocks of my life. Arriving back in the staging area, I saw a letter lying on my bed-roll. The handwriting on the envelope looked strangely familiar, even from a distance. On closer observation it was my own, and observing my brother Dick’s name and address to whom I had addressed this letter I also saw the Army stamp indicating return to the sender. My first reaction was one of impatience with the Army postal system for not having forwarded the letter to Dick even though he may not be with his unit. What I then saw made me sick and weak and puzzled. To the left of the stamp, written in long-hand and signed by an infantry captain was the single, unmistakable word “DECEASED” [followed by] “7-17-44”.
All I could say was “NO! IT CAN’T BE!” I sat down on my bed roll and stared at the letter, I don’t know how long, trying to piece things together before I could believe what I saw. At the end of that time, I was still bewildered and even at this writing, [two] days later, I am still trying to believe that there must be some error.
[Since I received the letter,] I have been living in another world. I have recalled all the memories of my dear brother Dick as I remember him in the past, from the times we used to indulge in brotherly childhood fights to the last time I saw him in Carmel, when he had dinner with Georgia and me. I shall always treasure the picture we took that day. Dick and I had grown very fond of each other, as could plainly be felt from our letters to each other during these past two years. How we did look forward to the happy times we would have together after this war!
Susan and Georgia shared our plans and in my last letter from Susan, she mentioned plans for a reunion on the ranch. How I feel for dear Susan and our dear Mother. They have both been so brave and cheerful through all of this, knowing that Dick was wounded and perhaps at any time would be back in the midst of battle, where an infantry sergeant’s life is in the hands of fate from one moment to the next.
Words can never tell how proud I am and always will be of my dear brother. He had so much to live for and yet, like so many thousands of our boys, went into battle and gave his life willingly and with the pride of a man doing his duty for his country.
Oh Lord, grant that those boys may not have given their lives in vain. Grant that those human beings who live on in this world may see the selfishness of their personal wants and make it their individual and collective responsibility to avoid another repetition of this horrible mess we are going through today. Grant that those who represent the world of nations at the peace table may be BIG enough to be guided by the unselfish principles of true Christianity.