D-Day Casualties, In 1994, the 50th anniversary year of the Allied invasion of Normandy, I was lucky enough to work as a fact-checker and writer for a distinguished history magazine. This often meant removing a second “t” in “Mathew Brady,” untangling fatality figures from casualties, or fielding the readers’ challenges that landed in a soft, angry pile in my cube. I did my best to defend the magazine’s honor, perched uneasily between the writers and know-it-alls.
DeRonda Elliott and I realized that my grandfather had more or less buried the father she couldn’t remember in a big trench on “Bloody Omaha.”
Occasionally, my fact-checking duties could be at least as interesting as the writing. There was the World War II bombardier who had apologized in person to the mayors of German towns he’d blasted as a young man, and the reader who sent in a bullet Pretty Boy Floyd had fired into his automobile showroom. And there was DeRonda Elliott, who submitted the saddest story any of us in the office had read.
The article was an account of the father she barely knew, Frank Elliott, a corporal with the 741st Tank Battalion training for the Normandy landings, and it was told simply through her parents’ madly crisscrossing war letters, leading up to and trailing off after D-Day, 1944. It proved unbearable to read because her father’s messages had continued to arrive weeks after the landing in which he had died from a German bomb in the invasion’s first hours.