Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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September 14, 1944


After Allied forces landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, they swept across France and on September 11 American troops first penetrated German soil in the vicinity of Aachen. At first the city was bypassed as American soldiers concentrated on the fortifications of the Siegfried line or Westwall. The reenforced German army gave stiff resistance which caused the American advance to halt. The U.S. forces encircled the city on October 16 and then proceeded to systematically take it through house to house combat. Diehard defenders had to be cleared from the city's ancient sewer system. Finally on October 21 the German commander surrendered after much of the city had been reduced to ruins. Remarkably, Aachen Cathedral, which housed the Emperor Charlemagne's coronation chair, survived the battle with little damage.

This letter was written to the mother of a soldier killed in this engagement. The soldier in question had been a resident of Hinsdale, Illinois when he entered the army at Chicago on March 25, 1943. He first reported for duty on April 1 and served stateside for seven months and six days. While on leave he married a twenty-year-old girl on August 18 in Indiana, the home of his parents, two brothers, and two sisters. He was shipped overseas on October 31. There he spent ten months and fifteen days before he died in fighting near Aachen.

Points to Consider

Locate Aachen, Germany and Namur, Belgium on a map.

What was the Siegfried line?

How much time elapsed between the death of the soldier in question and the writing of this letter? Why?

Did commanding officers ever write to the next of kin informing them that loved ones had suffered painful deaths?

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