A Memorial Day remembrance of an Army Ranger from Cos Cob who was killed during the D-Day invasion.
I’m Christopher Shields, Curator of Library and Archives at the Greenwich Historical Society.
As we think about the great sacrifices that have and continue to be made by the members of our armed forces this Memorial Day, I’d like to share a very special collection of correspondence that was generously donated to the Historical Society’s Library and Archives in 2019.
The collection consists of 12 letters written by Cos Cob native Sgt. Charles E. Rich. A couple of the letters are addressed to his brother, Private George Rich and the others are to his sister-in-law (George’s wife), Katherine Bologna Rich, who lived on the Post Road in Cos Cob.
Sgt. Rich worked in the Electrolux press department after high school. He enlisted in the Army after the outbreak of World War II.
It’s probably difficult to tell on screen, but the documents are actually photographic prints of letters and at first glance that might seem strange. The letters are in a format called “V-Mail” which is short for Victory Mail. This was the system that was used during World War II to correspond with soldiers. After being reviewed by censors, the original letters would be photographed and these images of the letters would be sent to their destination as tiny film negatives. When they were delivered to their destination, the negatives would be printed. This process freed up shipping space for critical war supplies.
Personal correspondences are among the most special primary source documents that are part of the archival collections. They often give a unique perspective on family relationships, current events, personal challenges and little tidbits of everyday life.
Sgt. Rich talks about the extreme rationing and power blackouts that he experienced while being stationed in England. He also talks fondly of the English family that he was living with and how being with this family and their two young daughters helped to lift his spirits, particularly during the Christmas holiday.
The last letter in the collection was written to his sister-in-law on May 21, 1944, just over 2 weeks before Sgt. Rich was mortally wounded during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The collection includes a photograph of the wounded Sgt. Rich taken by an Army Signal Corps photographer shortly before he died. He is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery, not far from location where he and so many others made the ultimate sacrifice on that fateful day.
This collection was donated to the Greenwich Historical Society by Sgt. Rich’s grand niece, who lives in Greenwich along with other members of the family. I am so grateful to her and all the other people who so generously donate these precious family items so that they can be preserved and shared for generations to come.
If you are interested in this or any of the other collections at the Library and Archives, you can find my contact information on the Historical Society’s website at Greenwichhistory.org.