ORINDA--As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, Beryl Glen-Reiland rummages through letters written by her husband Don and the photos of him dating back to World War II.

One letter in particular, sent from Nuremberg to Don's mother back home, shows her husband's reaction to the end of the war.

"Honestly Mom, I feel more uneven now than when there was a war on," Glen-Reiland read from one of her late husband's letters. "It just seems funny without one. I just have to lean back and keep saying to myself ... no more war ... sure anybody can grab a gun and fight ... but can they ever live in peace ... something that has never been done."

Beryl Glen-Reiland of Orinda and the boots her husband Don wore as he fought in World War II, which will be part of an exhibit June 6 at Orinda Books. ìDon
Beryl Glen-Reiland of Orinda and the boots her husband Don wore as he fought in World War II, which will be part of an exhibit June 6 at Orinda Books. ìDon felt the boots saved his life,î she said.

No matter what he wrote about to his family back home, Beryl Glen-Reiland said her husband signed off his letters with an optimistic "Keep 'em smiling."

She didn't know her husband when he was serving in the 3rd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Beryl was a girl in Scotland who remembered the earth-shattering sound of bombs and the drone of German airplanes flying overhead. Beryl and her husband-to-be would meet several years later, after he'd put the atrocities of war behind him.

They wouldn't be spoken of again until a return trip to Normandy years later.


Advertisement

"When the 50th anniversary of D-Day came up, we felt it would be good for him to go there," Beryl said of her husband. who died in 2005 at age 82. So in 1994, she accompanied Don to Normandy, where he was surrounded by a swarm of memories. Despite the horror of war, he'd made peace with the part of himself that had buried the past for so long.

"The French couldn't have been more welcoming there," said Beryl Glen-Reiland. "They opened their doors for him. When we got back home, he just wanted to talk about it, share his experience, and started to write a book."

Long before social media, Beryl helped Don find old wartime buddies with whom he shared stories. And Don poured out all his memories, along with photos and letters he wrote and received, into his memoir, "From Darien to D-Day: A Love Story." Published in 2004, the 60th anniversary year of D-Day, it is a personal account of his journey from teenage life in small-town Darien, Conn. to leaving family, friends and his sweetheart behind to serve as a soldier in war-torn Europe It also mentioned his role in the historic D-Day landing by U.S and Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France.

Don Glen-Reiland got to enjoy the public's warm reception of the book for a year before he passed away, she said.

"I was amazed at his energy, even when he was sick -- he kept at it," said Beryl, a local artist whose work includes landscapes and a portrait of her husband.

Twenty years after their visit to Normandy, Beryl -- who helped with research for the book -- pays homage to her husband and fellow soldiers in a special D-Day exhibit on June 6 at Orinda Books -- the anniversary date.

In addition to copies of Don Glen-Reiland's book, the display will also include paratrooper boots he wore on his D-Day jump; Beryl's painting of her husband's boots; items he carried; and photos he took and letters he sent during his time of service.

"Don felt the boots saved his life," she said. "When he dropped onto the water, he took a knife to break free from the parachute. He carried these boots from France all the way home."

The love of his family and friends with whom he corresponded as he traveled through Europe comforted him through the emotional struggles of war. When the war was over, he wanted to leave it all behind, Beryl said.

Kim Landry, Don Glen-Reiland's daughter, said she wasn't aware her father was terminally ill when he started working on his book.

"Dad had been very moved by that trip to Normandy, mostly because he found that the French people were so grateful for what the American soldiers had done," Landry said.

That gratitude helped pry open the door to the part of her father's brain where he had locked away the horrors of all that destruction and bloodshed. He finally felt a little pride in what he had done, Landry said.

Working on the book, Don revisited the horrors of war through the lens of the good ultimately accomplished by defeating the Nazis.

"Before he started writing about the war, I had never heard him tell about an experience that was scary or sad," said Landry, adding that all of those stories were finally flowing out of him.

"I was so grateful that he was letting those memories surface," Landry said.

D-Day's 70th anniversary
  • WHEN: 1-5 p.m. June 6
  • WHERE: Orinda Books, 276 Village Square, Orinda
  • INFORMATION: Orinda Books, Call 925-254-7606 or visit www.orindabooks.com