Invasion of Normandy
Essay by David George Ball,
James City

When I was a 5-year-old schoolboy in Gloucester, England, I listened with my father to an amazing broadcast on the BBC. President Roosevelt told the American Congress, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Within four hours, Congress declared war on Japan. Germany declared war on the United States, and America came in on our
David Ball (left) with his cousin, Roger (center), and brother, Jonathan.
side. This made Dad beam. He knew about America because he had studied at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He said to Mum, “It will make all the difference.”

American soldiers or nurses stayed in our back bedroom. I liked Corporal Pete May. He smiled a lot. He sat on the edge of his bed and didn’t mind my questions. “Why are you here?” I asked. “President Roosevelt sent me over to help you win the war.” “What do you do in America?” “I run a country store in a small town in Pennsylvania. Children come in for candy or a Coke. Would you like to see a photo?” He showed me a picture of himself standing proudly at the counter of his store with boxes full of strange fruit. I stared wide-eyed. “What are those?” “Those are bananas and oranges. You could get them in England before the war.” America sounded like a wonderful place with all kinds of treats, so different from wartime Gloucester. We needed a ration book for meat, eggs, lard, bacon, sugar and clothes. But when Mum sent me down to the co-op for groceries, the shelves were often empty.

Our vegetables came from our garden. Dad sliced the runner beans and stored them with salt in jars in the larder to make them last through the winter. He said, “The German Uboats torpedo ships coming from the colonies, so we must grow as much food as possible in England.” The German planes continued to attack towns all over the country, including Bristol 30 miles away. My cousin Roger, who lived on a farm near there, said, “At night, after the air raids, you can see Bristol burning.” Soldiers and sailors who were on leave came to chapel in their uniforms. They looked happy to be there in the warmth. The congregation seemed to think of Trinity Baptist Church as a refuge from their rented concrete homes in the White City with their damp beds and condensation streaming down the walls. During the evening service they belted out gospel hymns with such conviction their voices could be heard all over the neighborhood.

At the end of May 1944 hundreds of Army lorries arrived and parked on the side roads around our house. American soldiers tinkered with the motors, but they wouldn’t explain anything. Dad said to Mum, “There’s nothing on the BBC or in the Gloucester Citizen, but something big is going to happen.” Just as abruptly as they came, the soldiers moved out. Endless convoys of jeeps and lorries streamed down Finlay Road, the main route around Gloucester to the south coast. My brother, Jonathan, and I watched them pass. As they rolled by, I noticed huddled inside the lorries thousands of soldiers. They were not smiling like Corporal May, but looked frightened. I ran inside to ask Dad, “Can we wave like Winston Churchill?”

Our V for victory salute cheered them up. Some of the soldiers waved back and threw cubes of sugar or packs of chewing gum. The driver of one of the lorries pointed to us. “Here you go!” He threw something that looked like a ball. I recognized it from Corporal May’s photograph. It landed on the sloping grass in front of our house and rolled back across the sidewalk. We gasped as it bounced off the curb and out under the lorries into the center of the road. We waited for hours and hours, praying it wouldn’t get squashed. At last the jeep at the end of the long convoy drove by, and I dashed out into the road to pick it up. I proudly took it inside like a gift from the president of the United States –– a fabulous American orange! Dad showed us how to peel it and separate it into segments for everybody: one for Mum, one for Dad, one for Jonathan and one for me. There was even enough for the Jacksons, who lived next door. Nothing ever tasted so sweet! I wished I could live in America.

Several days later I heard on the radio about the invasion of Normandy by Allied troops. Many of them got killed. I hoped Corporal May was all right. On May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered. For the first time in weeks, the sun broke through the clouds. I ran up and down the garden path waving a small Union Jack and shouting, “We won the war! We won the war!”

David George Ball of James City received his bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1960 and his law degree from Columbia University in 1964. He served as assistant secretary of Labor 1989-93. His autobiography, “A Marked Heart,” will be published in January.