"...the important matter which I want to have you understand"

Lt. John William Ell, June 23, 1944

June 23, 1944

My dear Mother, Father and Brother,

Greetings and Salutations at long last. I suppose that the sight of the envelope bearing this epistle gave you a great feeling of relief.  I'd have written much sooner had time permitted.  I've been right up front, however, ever since D-day, and consequently have not had the chance to do anything but tend to immediate necessities, which have been many and pressing.  I have wanted very much to write this letter, for I have been wishing to tell you a few things which, once told, will relieve my mind and make my peace perfect.

It will be pretty hard to say what I wish to, but try hard to understand and perhaps my thoughts will be appreciated in the sense that I intend.

To begin with, my dear Parents, I am now a veteran soldier, having gone through some of the toughest fighting of the war.  You can gain some idea of it from the newspaper reports for the present, and, God willing, I'll tell you more some day.  It has been a terrible yet wonderful experience, just what I wanted to get.  So, I am richer in spirit that I was before.  And I'm proud, too, of being one who took an actual part in the Invasion of France.  For, I believe, that military operation has brought the end of the war clearly into view.  And bringing this infernal thing to a conclusion is, to my mind, the greatest work a man at present can devote himself to.

The only thing that is - unpleasant - about this occupation is that in pursuing it, more or less people get killed, and one is never out from under the shadow of the Old Reaper.  He has struck men down all around me, and once or twice, he has come within a hair of cutting my own stalk.  Somehow, however, I have been spared.  The best reason for that, which I can adduce, is your constant prayer, Mother.  In any event, I have viewed the visage of death at close quarters.  And that brings us to the important matter which I want to have you understand.

All the time I have been in the battle, only one thing has disturbed my mind.  I wanted to write you this letter before anything happened to me, for I have been afraid of the effect which news of my death might have on you, dearest Parents.  Through this letter I hope to make you understand a couple of things, which, once understood, would take most of the sting out of that news, should it come some day in the future.

First of all, my dearest Parents, - let me put it this way - as long as this war is the major event of the time, I would not be happy or satisfied in mind anywhere except in the middle of it.  Why that should be I shall not go in to.  (It is just a fact beyond argument or discussion that I, your son, would not be happy in a war plant, or Washington Office, or any secure place like that)

Naturally, this being the case, I am resigned to the possibility of a sudden and early death.  And, I want you to realize that I am prepared to die should I have to.  Let that sink into your mind now and think it over.  I, myself, am ready and willing to meet my Maker any time he should call.  I've seen how it is to be killed on a battlefield, and believe me, my good Parents, it is a much better way to go than wasting with sickness, or pining with worry.  The face of every dead man I've seen was serene and composed; except for the absence of respiration they were merely peacefully sleeping. I have no fear of Death.   (That is no boast, merely a statement of fact.)  And after this letter is finished, there will be nothing more to worry me or disturb my serenity of mind.

Now then, Mother and Father, understand this, can you receive news of my death with composure? and resignation?  Naturally, my death would be much harder on you than it would be on me.  But, it should not be a catastrophe to you, and that is what I am trying so desperately to explain to you with clarity and certainty.  So, just read over what I have written until you feel you see the picture the same way I do.

As a matter of fact, my dearest Folks, I am much better shape, having survived thus far, to see this thing through to a successful conclusion than I was before D-day.  I'm battlewise now, know the tricks and exercise a constant vigilance.  All that remains is the element of chance, or, in other words, the Will of God.  God willing I'll be home one day, otherwise, I won't.  That is the stark fact that it must be squarely faced.  As far as seeking a desk job far in the rear, that is out.  To me, life spent in seeking more security is worthless.  Just understand that, and everything else I've said will be easy to apprehend.

Now I've said what I wanted to say and I'm much relieved.  I'll never speak on this subject again, and I don't want you to mention it.  Just understand and that is all.....

Editor -  John Ell, class of 1940, First Lieutenant of Parachute Infantry, wrote this letter to his parents, Rose and Adolph Ell, in his regimental headquarters located in an abandoned house in Normandy on June 23, 1944.  The letter continue with several pages of greetings and chat with family members.  In April, 1945, the Ell family deposited a typescript of the full letter in the Dickinson College Special Collections, from which this reproduction is made with thanks.