June 6, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allies’ famed invasion of the beaches of Normandy. In honor of this momentous occasion, the Veterans History Project (VHP) is publishing a special series of blog posts revealing hidden facets of D-Day illuminated within VHP’S collections.
A point of view that is not represented in our recent D-Day Story Map is that of the paratrooper, who arrived in Normandy via parachute. Often memorialized in popular culture depictions of D-Day—the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) notably depicted the experiences of a company from the 101st Airborne Division—paratroopers played a key role during the invasion.
Recently, I had the pleasure of discussing the collections of two paratroopers whose materials are part of VHP’s D-Day holdings. Both Homer Hall and Felix Adams Jr. landed in Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944. As in the case of the veterans profiled in our Story Map, the manuscript materials in Hall and Adams Jr.’s collections offer a glimpse of what they experienced before and after D-Day.
I shared Hall and Adams Jr.’s collections as part of the most recent Material Culture Forum, a long-running symposium held at the Smithsonian Institution. Convened at the National Portrait Gallery on May 13, 2019, the Forum brought together scholars from around the Smithsonian and outside organizations to explore D-Day from a wide variety of different perspectives. Participants tackled subjects ranging from the experiences of Native American D-Day veterans like Charles Norman Shay to the story of a plane called Flak-Bait. As you can see in the webcast, the Forum explored not only what happened on D-Day, but also how the Normandy invasion has been remembered over the last 75 years.
For my presentation, I chose to examine two intriguing objects from the collections of veterans who participated in D-Day: Homer Hall’s POW diary and a scrapbook created by Felix Adams Jr.
A native of Kansas, Homer Eslie Hall joined the 82nd Airborne Division in 1942. On D-Day, he missed his drop zone by several miles, and was eventually captured by the Germans on June 13, 1944. While interned in a POW camp (Stalag Luft IV), he assembled a small pocket diary, writing on labels from packages of cigarettes and binding them together with a strip of tin from a container of cheese sent by the Red Cross.
The contents of this diary—including the names of his fellow POWs, poems, drawings, even lists of Spanish vocabulary—convey his need to record the particulars of his wartime experience, and also his desire to remember his buddies after his eventual liberation.
While Hall created his diary during the war, Felix Adams Jr.’s scrapbook was compiled after the war, and reveals those moments of his service that he found most memorable. Born in Vinita, Oklahoma, Adams Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, attending medical school and becoming a doctor. He joined the Army in 1942, and was sent first to the 53rd Evacuation Hospital before transferring to the 101st Airborne Division.
Adams Jr.’s scrapbook contains a hand-drawn pictorial history of his training and experiences leading up to D-Day. The drawings are rough but charming, and visually convey a wealth of details about what he witnessed: the rattlesnakes he avoided during training in Needles, California; the dancing and carousing during parties at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and finally, parachuting into Normandy on D-Day. Adams Jr. also lists the names and fates of some of his comrades in the 101st—including Herbert L. Garris, who donated an oral history to VHP in 2003.