This week we are honoring Bernie Tom and the anniversary of his death with articles on some of the letters he wrote to his parents and explaining how the details can help researchers understand not only military service of an individual, but also who he was.
- You can read the first article, Band of Brothers in Letters – Bernie Tom KIA 9 October 1944.
- You can read the second article, Paratrooper Bernie Tom – Part 2.
As we move through the final set of letters Bernie wrote to his parents, I’d like to point out a few things I learned about Bernie.
He has a great sense of humor. In one letter dated 1 June 1944, he tells his parents General Taylor is supposed to talk to the troops. He jokes he will make some time to talk business with the General to speed the end of the war. On 2 June he writes one final letter containing general chatter and then writes nothing until 16 June 1944.
He has a confidence and strength not seen in every young man. He seems to have a sense of what he is contributing to the world. Bernie has a plan for the future and sent a lot of money and war bonds home throughout his entire service.
The war was real before D-Day, but it is even more real after. Bernie discusses France in his 16 June 1944 letter saying people have it hard. They wear straw for socks and walk around in wooden shoes. Most are happy to see the Americans, but not all. He goes on to say, “The jump wasn’t bad but i was never more scared in my life…..” This is the first time he admits he has any fear.
Bernie did a good job overall in writing his letters. Almost nothing censored. One letter dated 20 June 1944 had several things blacked out, including the name of the fountain pen he was using, which seemed an odd thing to black out. He was sitting in a Red Cross Club in France as he wrote this letter and was likely using a pen they provided as he mentioned the Red Cross Club had writing desks, pens, and paper. That same letter had a sentence in which it appears he talked about killing Germans (Krauts) as those words make sense in the blacked out portions. Interesting those words would be blacked out when it was common knowledge the Americans were fighting the Germans. Bernie also mentions in this letter he had his first bath since they arrived in France on 6 June. His bath was out of a bucket. How often do we take bathing for granted?
Bernie’s letters are less frequent through the rest of June and contain general news about how he is and questions for his parents. He states several times he really knows nothing about how the war is progressing unless he sees a news bulletin. Often those are two to three days old. By 4 July 1944 he is still in France, hasn’t bathed for a month and comments on something his dad wrote in a letter saying he didn’t read anything about Bernie’s involvement in D-Day. Bernie responds the 506th may not have been mentioned in the papers but his Division was, though he couldn’t say which Division at that time. He did say he was one of the first to drop into France on D-Day.
Bernie takes great pride in the work he does for the war. On 5 July 1944 in his letter to his parents, he asks if they read anything about the fall of Carentan. He said, “The papers mention the Rangers took the town, but it was solely a paratrooper victory…..I know because I was there.” Later that month his unit returns to England to await the next jump.
Between late July and mid-September, Bernie’s letters are few and far between. The unit is training a lot and he mentions being tired and behind on writing letters. By this point he knows his brother Dana is overseas, but not exactly sure where. Unfortunately the two did not meet up prior to Bernie’s death.
His final letter home is dated 15 September 1944 and he asks about the family and mentions he rode into town in a 1938 Hudson, the largest car he’d seen in England. This is just prior to the jump into Holland.
If any of Bernie’s other letters exist, if he wrote any others prior to his death, they are not part of this collection.
Bernie Tom died on 9 October 1944 near The Crossroads.
© 2017 World War II Research and Writing Center