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“I damn near drowned when I hit the ground.”

On May 30, 1992, Douglas Clanin, editor in the Indiana Historical Society Press, conducted an oral history interview with Charles J. Ritzler of Delphi. You likely don’t know Charles Ritzler. He was one of the 400,000 Hoosiers who served during World War II. His first combat mission? D-Day.

Charles was born in Three Oaks, Michigan, on June 3, 1921. His father was a telegrapher on the New York Central Railroad. During the Depression, he estimates they moved 20 times for his father’s work. Following his high school graduation, Charles found a job in South Bend in the mailroom of the Studebaker factory. After he was drafted in November 1942, he went to Toccoa, Georgia, for basic training. He ended up in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 101st Airborne Division, and was a machine gun squad leader.

In the interview, Charles isn’t emotional about his time in combat. He’s matter-of-fact. At the time of his interview, he was in his early 70s. There are things he can’t remember, but in listening to him, you find that his memory is unclear because of how fast everything happened. Drafted at the end of November 1942, he was learning how to jump out of aircraft by April. Charles shipped out on Jan. 18, 1944, from around Boston to England. He talks about the time he spent in the woods on the estate where he was billeted and the shenanigans he and his fellow soldiers got up to.

When asked about the value of his training, Charles says, “I think it was the best they could do in the short amount of time. It seemed like every jump you took, you learned a little something” (find it at 23:45 using the audio play bar below).

Start listening to Ritzler’s D-Day recollections at 29:30.

From 1983 to 2002, Clanin conducted hundreds of interviews with veterans of all branches of services and theaters of operation as well as women in the armed forces. Many of Clanin’s interviews are still on cassette. We are working to digitize these along with other collection items. What you see on our online catalog and at is not the complete story. You might want to call or visit the William H. Smith Memorial Library to see if we have something you’ve been looking for.

Image: General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day, “Full victory – nothing else” to paratroopers somewhere in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C, LC-USZ62-25600

World War II Oral History Interview, Charles J. Ritzler, May 30, 1992

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