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On June 6, 1944, Charles “Chuck” Westie prepared for the Normandy invasion. He found time to write his wife, Ardith. “Where ever I am,” he wrote,”I will be thinking of you constantly – and living only for the thing to end and be back with you.”
Charles wanted Ardith to know that he loved her. At the same time, he believed in the necessity of fighting the war:
Perhaps you will think someday that I can not have loved you enough and still believe all the things that I do. I guess that it is not fair to you to say that the most important thing to me is not coming back – but in being worthy of this job – now – and for all my life. I would alter that – I think – if I could – but I just couldn’t and somehow can’t for long entertain the thought that my life is more important than the fighting against the things that may take it from you.
Meanwhile, in Lansing, Michigan, Ardith was writing her own letter to her husband. Her letter – also clearly dated “June 6, 1944” – shows the special stresses of a soldier’s loved one.
I turned on the radio about 6:45 this morning and heard the news for the first time. I did my praying then, darling. You know at first hand the strain and tension of the wait – and it has been much in evidence here, too. As a consequence, the news has packed a terrific emotional wallop. The whistles blew and banged at ten this morning, the signal for silent prayer all over the state.
On July 28, 1944, Charles was wounded in action. He was evacuated to England and placed in a hospital. On August 5, he wrote to Ardith and explained his experience:
The brief yet hour long minutes of the action in which I was hit are re-occuring nightmares at times – It is all very confused. Most horrible were the cries of the wounded – for “medics” and for God. I would start to cry to God and would then remember that I had no right to – and then all the thoughts of home and you. It’s all over now…though really, I suppose, it will never be over.
In Lansing, Ardith anxiously awaited news. Charles’ letters were being delayed. She did not learn of his wounding until August 12 – two weeks after it occurred. That day, she wrote to Charles, telling him that she was thinking of him. She stated that she had “no one to talk about it to…”
In the late 1970s, Ardith, at the request of her adult daughter, thought back on that day. At that time, she wrote a lengthy memoir of her experience. She notes that she had been at home with daughter Judy (then just a few days shy of her second birthday) when she heard the news.
When Chuck’s letter arrived in early August telling me he was wounded and in the hospital, I was still twenty-two. I was stunned and alone. I think it was a Saturday, so I was home with Judy. I didn’t know what to do! I tried to have my disbelief and my anger and my sorrow all inside me, because the only person there was Judy, and how could she understand if I acted out how I felt? She was such a dear little person. You cannot imagine. I cannot imagine – I only remember when I read the letters I wrote Chuck – how she took good care of me in her baby way when she thought I felt bad or had hurt myself.
On this occasion, I went through the day trying to go for the walk and do the usual Saturday things. I knew my parents were coming the next day and felt I could wait until I saw them to tell them. Knowing how horribly afraid Chuck’s parents were for him, I hesitated to call them. I thought I would wait for the War Department telegram or for another message from Chuck – I do not remember what I actually did, except that I probably didn’t tell them until after I told my folks. I just don’t know.
When Judy went to bed, I thought, “Now, I can cry.” I did, but could cry only a little bit. Crying is a very social act, and the only person I could cry with and cry for was not there. I don’t remember if I slept or how long Sunday morning was, until my parents arrived around noon, and I met them at the door and immediately said, “Chuck has been wounded!” and started to cry and cry.
Charles’ wound was serious, and he saw no more combat. He was shipped back to the United States and spent the remainder of his service in Army hospitals. Eventually, his leg had to be amputated. After the war, he became a sociology professor at Central Michigan University. He and Ardith lived in Mount Pleasant for many years.
Charles Westie died on June 5, 1994. His death occurred fifty years – almost to the hour – from the time that he boarded the ship to Normandy. The wounds Charles suffered in combat ultimately caused his death. They affected his blood circulation, which in turn caused diabetes. Charles died of complications from this disease.
Ardith Westie has survived him. Recently, she donated her and Charles’ war letters to the Archives of Michigan. Now, these letters can be preserved and made publicly available, a testament of the courage of these two remarkable members of America’s greatest generation.