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France in WW II: The French Resistance

American D-Day Veterans

Jack Downey, photographer. John William Boehne, III Collection. [1944]. D-Day on the Beach, Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of the "D-Day" Allied invasion of the Normandy beaches on June 6th, 1944. It marked the turning point in WWII where the Allied forces began to have the advantage over the Axis powers, and within the year, Germany would surrender. It also emboldened members of the Resistance in France to act more overtly in sabotaging the German war efforts and boosted the morale of the French at a pivotal moment. Allied troops on D-Day are estimated at 150,000 and the American casualties are numbered at 6,000. June 6, 2024 is the 80th anniversary of this operation and provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the individuals who bravely put themselves in harm's way to defeat the German Army.

For those French citizens who had lived under Nazi Occupation for four years, the Allied Invasion of Normandy was a sign of hope and relief. Many began tuning into Radio London to track the progress of the Allied troops. Rumors and expectations abounded, but the general mood became one of optimism and there was a surge in the spirits of the French nation. Although liberating Paris was not an Allied priority, the French Resistance instigated an uprising on August 19th that forced the issue. A battle ensued from August 19th-25th and the Germans were forced to surrender the city. By the end of August the Liberation of Paris  External caused celebrations in the streets. There was a mix of chaos and excitement as tank after tank rolled down the streets and shots were fired. On August 26th there was an enormous triumphal parade along the Champs-Élysées, and Charles de Gaulle gave an inspiring speech. Parisian civilians flooded the streets with make-shift French flags — often that had been made at home from old sheets and fabric dye. There was a sense of euphoria and elation that day, but the coming months would consist of some degree of confusion and continued battles to ensure liberation throughout France. It was during these months that many average citizens joined in with resistance activities and the common cause of French independence became a unifying factor — at least for the moment.

D-day Normandy : the invasion and the first 48 days of action with the 743rd tank battalion in France. [1944]. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP) collects, preserves and makes accessible the firsthand recollections of U.S. military veterans who served from World War I through more recent conflicts and peacekeeping missions so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand what they saw, did, and felt during their service. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, VHP published a D-Day blog series that touched on many aspects of the D-Day experience and highlights hidden facets of D-Day that are represented in the VHP'S collections. These blogs tell the personal stories of those who made D-Day a success for the Allied Forces. Some were storming the beaches, others were directing the landings or even parachuting in after June 6th to continue the fight on the ground, pushing the Germans further back. Another way to access the trove of information about this momentous event is the interactive Story Map, "D-Day Journeys: Personal Geographies of D-Day," which chronicles the individual journeys of four D-Day veterans. A Story Map uses text, images, primary sources, maps and oral history interviews for a truly immersive experience for the user. Listening to the first-person testimony of someone who was present at an event of such historical significance is not just incredibly moving, but is also a way to honor the sacrifices made to secure our freedom. The VHP has made it their mission to record and preserve these precious and remarkable stories so that future citizens and researchers have access to the experiences of our past heroes.

U.S. Maritime Commission photo. Bird's-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day. [1944]. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

The Library is also fortunate to have custody of World War II Sketches by Victor A. Lundy. As the Library's research guide states, noted architect Victor Alfred Lundy was born in 1923 in New York City. He served in the U.S. 26th Infantry Division during World War II. In 1942, Lundy was 19, studying to be an architect in New York City. Excited about rebuilding Europe post-war, he and other college men enlisted in the Army Special Training Program (ASTP). His visual diaries comprised of 159 pencil drawings in 8 sketchbooks bring to life his wartime experience.

The sketches cover May to November 1944, with some gaps where sketchbooks were lost. The eight surviving sketchbooks are spiral bound and 3 x 5 inches—small enough to fit in a breast pocket. Lundy used black Hardtmuth leads (a drawing pencil) and sketched quickly. "For me, drawing is sort of synonymous with thinking."

After the conclusion of World War II, Lundy completed a degree in architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Winning the prestigious Rotch Traveling Scholarship allowed him to travel abroad. In 1954, Lundy opened an architectural firm in Sarasota, Florida. In 1967, the American Institute of Architects named him a Fellow--one of its highest honors. Lundy moved to Houston, Texas, in the 1970s. Among the notable buildings designed by this master artist-architect are churches with soaring roof lines, the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Tax Court, and the U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka.

Lundy has donated his architectural archive to the Library of Congress, including these World War II sketchbooks presented in 2009.

Below is a curated list of resources related to D-Day held in the Library of Congress.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.