While Serving

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D-Day - June 6th, 1944. It was the greatest armada the world had ever seen, involving 5,000 ships of all types and 11,590 aircraft, all committed to one cause, to land 156,000 soldiers onto the beaches of Normandy and another 23,000 paratroopers onto the fields and marshes behind those beaches. It was war on a mammoth scale – with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.

Courtesy of The Library of Congress

This helmet fragment belonged to an unknown soldier. It was discovered on Omaha Beach several years after the war, and speaks volumes about the savage nature of the combat faced by those who assaulted Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” on the morning of June 6, 1944—D-Day.


General of the Army

On December 20th, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of all Allied forces in Europe, was promoted to General of the Army—a five-star general. He was the third of World War II’s Army commanders to receive his fifth star, behind Generals George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower talking with Sergeant Paul Williams from Illinois during his tour of the European front lines, November 15, 1944

Courtesy of Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Helmet

On loan from the Harlan Crow Library


Department of Military Affairs, Springfield, IL

This Ike jacket was the property of First Sergeant William Lorch, a member of the Illinois National Guard during both world wars. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1943 was the newly appointed Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, was no fan of the Army’s woolen service coat. He lobbied for a “neater and smarter” design, and the result was a shorter waist-length version of the service coat that became known as the Ike Jacket.


Two items chronicle Norman Rovey’s rite of passage in 1942 from carefree newlywed to highly trained soldier. He arrived at boot camp wearing this suit and carrying a small suitcase. He sent both to his wife in Illinois. Uncle Sam, he was assured, would take care of all his needs for “the duration of the war.” He finally returned home to his loving wife, in August 1945, and a daughter he had never met.


Courtesy of the Rovey Family


Courtesy of the Rovey Family

Norman and Eileen Rovey's Wedding Day, November 26, 1941

Courtesy of the Rovey Family

Norman and Eileen Rovey, ca. 1943

Courtesy of the Rovey Family

Airbourne Beer

Vincent Speranza served as a machine gunner and company runner during the 101st Airborne’s heroic defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. A wounded buddy in a church near the center of town told Vince he was thirsty. Vince dutifully went looking for beer, which he delivered in the only container he could find—his helmet. For the next sixty-five years, a story about an airborne trooper delivering beer to his pal in the hospital became part of the lore of the battle, and a local brewery commemorated the event when it bottled Airborne Beer. Only when Vince visited Bastogne in 2009 did he discover he was famous, and the people of Belgium could finally put a name and a face to the legend.

Beer and Mug

Courtesy of Vince Speranza

Vince Speranza and bottles of Airbourne Beer

Courtesy of Vince Speranza


It was every G.I.’s right to gripe about the food he ate while serving on the front lines, but the reality was that no army in history had ever eaten better. Uncle Sam’s rations had something for everyone: meat, crackers, fruit, cheese, and coffee, even toilet paper, gum, and cigarettes. There were even chocolate bars, cherished not just by G.I.s, but by children from those countries the Americans liberated.

Reproduction Rations

Courtesy of John Werner

American G.I. with Italian children on Christmas

Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


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