The daughter of a D-Day paratrooper and her husband, a PTSD therapist, discover a family legacy of love, trauma, and resilience when they set out to explore a vast trove of WWII correspondence, official military documents, personal effects, and unique militaria found in closets and basements after her father’s death.
Young Sue Gurwell had always known that her father had been a paratrooper. An old camo parachute from Holland served as her backyard tent, and high on a shelf she mustn’t touch, eight red devils in parachutes grinned from the front of mysterious drinking glasses Dad had sent Mom during the war. And then there was the special poem in his roll-top desk she sometimes snuck a peek at, written by a member of Dad’s regiment. This poem was a premonition of the sergeant’s death. “Yes,” her dad told her, “He was right—he died on D-Day.”
But it’s not until 2016, after her parents had both passed away, that Susan Gurwell Talley and her husband Jack L. Talley begin to understand the true extent and significance of the wartime artifacts that had been staples of Sue’s childhood. The Talley’s discovered that Sue’s father, Lt. George L. Gurwell, Executive Officer, HqHq, 508th PIR, had silently squirreled away thousands of wartime documents in the family home.
Like most combat veterans, George was never one to talk about the war; but the historic collection of official records, correspondence, photographs, maps, memorabilia, cultural artifacts, and unique ephemera constitute quite possibly the most extensive, various, and complete documentation of the 508th held privately today.
This precious resource could not have passed into better hands than those of Jack and Sue Talley. Jack, a PhD psychologist specializing in PTSD, was the first to understand that George had PTSD symptoms that still lingered from the war years when he and George were introduced on June 6, 2001. That evening, the 57th anniversary of D-Day, George first opened up about the war, and preceded to talk late into the night. In that conversation lies the genesis of this book.