Today's dedication of the National World War II Memorial has sparked the memories of countless people who experienced the conflict in different roles and in far-flung places -- as members of the U.S. armed forces; as adults and children supporting the war effort on the U.S. home front; and as citizens of other countries engulfed by the fighting.
The Washington Post received more than 1,000 submissions in response to a request to readers to share their most vivid recollections of the war. The Post is publishing a selection of those personal stories through tomorrow. Additional stories were published yesterday, and more can be found at www.washingtonpost.com.
Landing of a Lifetime
On the evening of June 5, 1944, our Landing Craft Infantry was among hundreds assembled in Portsmouth Harbor. At daybreak, we left the harbor and headed for Normandy.
At 9:50 a.m., we received the order to beach our ship at Easy Red Sector of Omaha Beach and disembark our infantrymen. Nearing the beach, we began taking rifle and machine-gun fire. Maneuvering through the beach obstacles, our ship got caught on one of the pilings and set off a Tellermine. The explosion tore off the starboard landing ramp. Bleeding bodies lay on the deck. We were ordered to abandon ship.
The beach was full of dead and wounded bodies, discarded equipment, disabled tanks and vehicles. More landing crafts were beaching and disgorging more infantrymen. All this activity was going on amid heavy enemy fire from the bluff above the cliff. I ran down the beach to where the highest concentration of infantrymen were. As I was running, I noticed a change in the sound of the firing; it was coming from behind me.
I turned and saw the sand kicking up behind and following me as I ran. I then realized that I was the target being fired upon. I dove behind a disabled tank. My heart was pounding against my chest. By the grace of God, I wasn't wounded.
I worked with the medics, placing dead bodies and body parts in body bags. We examined the wounded for open, bleeding wounds, and we emptied packs of sulfonamide into the wounds and bandaged them.
My memories are as clear to me today as they were on June 6, 1944.
-- Michael A. Chirigos, Potomac
One Family's Small Blessings
I was 6 during the last year of World War II, living in a small Baltic Sea fishing village in Pomerania (now Poland) with my 9-year-old sister and 3-year-old brother. We were with a group of children evacuated from Berlin because of Allied bombing. It was so quiet that my brother and I couldn't go to sleep; we were used to the antiaircraft battery banging away as our bedtime lullaby.
I didn't think about the war except when they told us that my uncle, a 24-year-old soldier, had been killed on the Russian front.
One icy January night in 1945, we were roused and taken in hay wagons to the local train station, where hundreds of frightened refugees were waiting. The eastern horizon was fiery red and we heard the roar of cannons in the distance. The 150-mile trip took two days, but we arrived safely in Berlin and had a joyous reunion with our family.
The Russians finally fought their way into Berlin by late April 1945. I still remember big guys in quilted coats with guns drawn coming into our basement, where we were holed up along with some neighbors. They established their local command post upstairs, which actually helped to protect us from the hordes of murderous and marauding soldiers terrorizing everyone. That night, some of the officers joined us for a "victory" celebration: thick ham sandwiches for all, plenty of vodka for the adults, and raw onions and raw eggs gulped by the Russians.
The Russians loved kids. One of the roughest of them would bounce my little brother on his knees, and they brought food for us. My parents always said that we children "saved" our family.
-- Almuth F. Payne,
The War Effort Hits Home
When our country entered the war, I was 7. Every eligible male in our family signed up. People at home joined in the war effort -- collecting tin cans and other metal for the scrap drive, buying war stamps to turn in for bonds, saving ration coupons for foods in short supply and openly deploring "hoarders."
The ship that our dad commanded survived torpedo attacks, and he made it home. His youngest brother didn't. Flying a mission out of England, he went down in the North Sea. Mom's younger brother was lost in a typhoon off Luzon in the Philippines. A cousin was killed in Holland, one day before "Victory in Europe." He was barely 19.
We children quickly grew accustomed to grief -- watching bad news delivered; catching our elders unawares, tears streaming down their cheeks. We were never spared much of anything, which in a way was good, because it hardened us for what could possibly come.
When the war finally ended, my dad's father said of the jubilation that followed, "This should be a solemn occasion." Even I understood him. He'd lost a son.
-- Patricia E. Marti, Columbia
A Childhood Strafed by War
At 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1939, at my school in Helsinki, my classmates and I were startled by the sound of gunfire. We ran to the corner window and saw, on the rooftop of the high school across the street, machine guns firing at airplanes overhead.
Our teacher told us that Helsinki was under bombardment -- war between Finland and the Soviet Union had started. She told us to hurry down to the lobby and remain there. At 2 p.m., a policeman on a bicycle came to tell us that we should hurry home. At 3 p.m., our now-empty school was hit and destroyed.
The next day, all children younger than 16 were evacuated from the city. When we returned in January 1940, the government had managed to find us a "new" school -- a dilapidated factory with beat-up desks. We didn't care. We were simply happy to be alive and see each other again.
In March 1940, Finland and the Soviet Union signed a cease-fire that lasted until midsummer 1941. Then the war started again and lasted until the fall of 1945. By that time, I had graduated from high school. But I think we were all affected by the first day of the war, realizing that our sunny childhood was over -- and that everything can change in one split second.
-- Rhode Stone, Annandale
The 'Greatest' Story Never Told
When the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, I was managing editor of Bomb Rack, the weekly newspaper of the 20th Air Force. About that time, the editor and I were summoned to nearby Tinian. There, we were told that we could talk to the enlisted men in the flight crew of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that had dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
That was the good news. The bad news: We were told that we could not print anything we heard. The Manhattan Project was still uptight.
The only new thing we learned during our conversation with the crew was the shock wave story. Col. Paul Tibbets, the commander of the Enola Gay, had told the crew to expect a shock wave. The crew felt it and thought nothing of it. Very soon there was a second shock wave, the crew told us, and most were scared. "We thought we had been hit by flak," one crewman said. "Colonel Tibbets hadn't mentioned a second shock wave." But it was quickly determined that all was well.
As a GI newsman, I said it was the greatest news story I never wrote.
-- Ben Zinser, Long Beach, Calif.