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In 1942, 22-year-old Bill Kays found himself headed for England to fight the Nazis, where he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division. By the end of the war in 1945, Kays had become a seasoned soldier who had served in Tunisia, Sicily, England, France, Belgium, and Germany. He is pictured in the iconic photos of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, Normandy, having traveled on the same landing craft as the great war photographer Robert Capa. Built around 123 letters written home, this moving memoir presents a detailed picture of the life, thoughts and emotions of a young soldier who wished to avoid the front lines but never managed to do so. His observations of army life, comradeship, and heroism offer a fascinating personal perspective on the events of World War II in Europe.
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William Morrow Kays was born in 1920 in Norfolk, Virginia. His father, Herbert E. Kays, was a U.S. Navy captain, and the family lived in Virginia, Washington, D.C., San Diego, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Berkeley and Honolulu. After college at Stanford University, Kays began his active duty in the U.S. Army, starting in July 1942. After serving in the First Engineer Battalion of the Army's First Infantry Division ("The Big Red One") in Tunisia, Sicily, England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia, he was discharged in November 1945. June 6, 1944 found him landing on Omaha Beach as part of the great Allied Invasion of France. Kays is among those pictured in the famous D-Day landing photos of Robert Capa, the Life Magazine photographer who had been with him on the U.S.S. Chase and the landing craft. After the war, Kays returned to Stanford on the GI Bill, earning a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. He settled in Palo Alto with his wife Alma and four daughters, joining the Stanford Mechanical Engineering faculty in 1951. Kays' career led to chairmanship of his department as well as Dean of the School of Engineering from 1972-1984. After Alma's death in 1982, he retired from Stanford in 1990 and currently lives on campus with his second wife, Judith. He has four children and two stepchildren, fifteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He is an avid fan of the Stanford football team (and has been for more than eighty years). Since the war, Kays has attended numerous First Division reunions with his fellow officers. During a sabbatical leave to England in 1959-60, Kays and his family visited Omaha Beach as well as many of the other places he had been during the war.
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