Letters from Our Soldiers

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A man who collects letters from those wartime men and women

who died, gathered them together to donate a huge amount to

a university. Andrew Carroll, editor of the New York Times

best-sellers, “War Letters” and “Behind the Lines,” donated

his collection of 100,000 letters to Chapman University in

Orange, California.

For those of you who liked “Reader’s Digest” magazine and

their equally valuable reading place, “Reader’s Digest

Condensed Books,” I would like to share that I dreamed of

having a position and getting paid for working for one of

those highly esteemed reading sources. I always thought

what an interesting job it would be to ‘cull’ and ‘sort’

through newspapers, magazines and newly published books to

discover which ones would be worthy of being condensed and

read by millions of readers.

After all my days in doctor’s offices and hospitals with my

youngest daughter, (who has lived with JRA since she was 11,

diagnosed at age 13) I would like to nominate those special

and easily read magazines for some kind of Pulitzer Award!

The books were ones I could take to a babysitting job, while

12 and up, read one or two of the ‘books’ encased in those

esteemed volumes and feel I was ‘in the know’ for a time, on

what was considered popular literature, nonfiction and other

kinds of writings. They sometimes led me back to the library

to get the complete book, wanting more details.

What I am doing today is presenting you with an article and

a lead on some books, which may ‘whet your appetite’ for more!

I am considering myself, ‘duly elected’ to this position and

consider finding these ‘gems’ to share with you. In each letter,

there is a story.

Had my cousins written during their Viet Nam War experiences and

shared the letters with my mother, she would have kept them. I

wish I knew more of their experiences.

I will always remember when my twin second cousins, Johnny

and Eddie, came back from the Viet Nam War. My cousin, Ed, went

back to being a pharmacist at Tuck’s Pharmacy, located in the

small, notable town of Rockport, Massachusetts. My cousin, John,

came back to California, briefly found out that his wife had

been unfaithful, and left the West coast permanently. It was my

16th summer, the one my parents let me go work at the candy

counter, learning how to be independent since my Great Aunt Dot

and Great Uncle George, gave me working hours, dinner hour and

the curfew of 10 p.m. during the week, 11 p.m. during the weekend.

I learned firsthand about PTSD, through deep and dark discussions

with Johnny. He was not happy with his war experiences. I wish now,

that I had written notes down, during that three month period.

His life irrevocably changed, whereas his twin brother, who had

been in the ‘medic’ field tents and not in direct contact with

weapons. No, he just handled their aftermath results, seemingly

unscathed.

Andrew Carroll has collected letters from the Revolutionary War,

the Civil War, WWI and WWII, Korean War, the Gulf, Afghanistan and

Iraqi skirmishes, too.

1. A Revolutionary War letter~

Writing from father to son, James Williams began a letter to Daniel,

on June 12, 1779:

“This is the first chance I have had to write you. I am, by the cause

of Providence, in the field in defense of my country.” He describes

missing his children and wife. I love the way he shows his emotions

about her,

“Your mother, who sits like a dove that has lost its mate, having the

weight of the family on her shoulders.”

Sadly, James died at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.

He had written these foreboding words,

“The uncertainty of life ought to induce every man to prepare for

death.”

2. A Civil War letter~

When a soldier has been mortally wounded, their words are even more

heart-breaking, since time is slipping away from them. Here is a part

of a letter from John Ross Wallar, who volunteered to be a drummer boy,

in the Civil War. This is most sad, since he was only 15 years old.

He dictated these words in a short letter, sent to his family:

“Dear Sister, Father, Mother and Friends,

I received your letter, but I don’t think I ever shall see another

that you write. This is Friday night. But I don’t think I will live

to see morning. But my kind friends, I am a soldier of Christ. I

will meet you all in Heaven. My leg has been taken above my knee. I

am dying, at this time. So don’t mourn after me. For I have bled and

died for my country.

May God help you all to pray for me. I want you all to meet me in

Heaven above…

My wound dresser is writing this letter.

Write to Alexander Nelan, for I won’t live till morning.

So goodbye, my friends. May God be with you

all. God bless my poor Soul.”

3. A WWI letter (in France)~

On September 11, 1918, a Columbia University student who had volunteered

for service, leaving school. Sgt. David Ker sent a letter to his mother

the day before the attack on Saint-Mihiel, France. He wanted to keep his

family’s spirits up:

“Tomorrow the first totally American drive commences, and it gives me

inexpressible joy and pride to know that I shall be present to do my

share….Should I go under, therefore, I want you to know that I went

without any terror of death and my chief worry is the grief my death

will bring to those so dear…”

4. A WWII letter~

Tommie Kennedy, 2nd Lt., only 21, knew he would not come home alive.

He was captured by the Japanese at Corregidor and spent nearly 3 years

as a P.O.W. He was ‘fatally malnourished and incarcerated on a ship.’

Kennedy scribbled a farewell message to his parents on two family

photographs:

“Momie & Dad:

It is pretty hard to check out this way without a fighting chance

but we can’t live forever. I’m not afraid to die, I just hate the

thought of not seeing you again.

Buy Turkey Ranch with my money and just think of me often while

you are there… make liberal donations to both sisters…

I guess you can tell Patty that fate just didn’t want us to

be together…

Hold a nice service for me in Bakersfield and put head stone

in new cemetery…

Loving and waiting for you in the world beyond.”

This letter was smuggled from one POW to another and it was

finally mailed, getting there in late 1945. Four years after

Tommie had left home to be in the service.

5. A Vietnam War letter~

Lt. Dean Allen wrote to his wife, Joyce, on July 10, 1967.

“…Being a good platoon leader is a lonely job…” Pondering his

position and not being able to discuss things with her, he said,

“I guess it (writing a letter) helps a little though because you

are the only one I would say these things to. Maybe sometime I’ll

even try to tell you how scared I have been or now… Sometimes,

I wonder how I’ll make it. My luck is running way too good right

now. I just hope it lasts…”

He tells his wife, “I love you with all my heart.” Four days later,

Dean stepped on a land mine.

6. An Afghanistan War letter~

Mainly during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, service members have

usually ‘Skyped’ or emailed letters. There have been some exceptions,

for which it helps for posterity’s sake, to have them as examples of

this period in wartime. Sgt. Josh Harapko, with the 10th Mountain

Division, preparing to be part of coalition forces, for Operation

Anaconda, was 23 years old. A major assault on the Taliban and al-Qaida

was planned, before advancing into one of the worst Afghan campaigns,

he wrote this letter to his mother dated March, 2002:

“Dear Mom,

I’m writing this letter before I leave. I couldn’t say what I

wanted to over the phone. First I want to say I love you so much.

You were always there for me even though I would never talk about

my problems.

Second you gave me the options to be a man, giving me slack in the

rope to try to make the right decisions. No matter what you always

believed in me, no matter how much of a punk I was to you…

I don’t want you to worry about me. (I know you will cause I’m your

son.)

Mom, I’m not afraid to die for something that is right… I just hope

that I made you proud… I’ll always be with you…”

This young man, Josh, survived combat in Afghanistan but died exactly

one year later, on March 11, 2003. His Black Hawk helicopter crashed,

during a training mission at Fort Drum, N.Y. Shortly before he died,

he had given his mother this letter. She cherishes it.

The words of the nearly dying and the ones who fought for our country

are very brave and sure in their convictions. I am in awe and amazement;

there is such selfless-ness through their written correspondences.

Andrew Carroll’s words are good ones to close this article and to give

a summarization:

“On a more personal level, these correspondences provide a tangible

connection to the past and humanize our men and women in uniform,

capturing their distinct personalities, experiences and aspirations.

Through their words, we see them as more than just soldiers, Marines,

airmen and sailors. They are a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse,

a fiancé or a best friend.”

May this fine and early tribute, through Andrew Carroll’s words,

to all of our servicemen and women, living and gone ahead, a week

early…

for Memorial Day, 2014.

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26 responses »

  1. The letters that I received from my boyfriend in the South Pacific during WW2 usually talked about friends or feelings or simple things that went on in his life. He was not allowed to tell me anything important, and when he tried, it was censored either with those big black pens or cut out entirely with a scissors. They were drastically strict, and I suppose with good reason in case the letter fell into enemy hands or I unwittingly said something that could be overheard by people looking for that kind of information. It was frustrating, but at least the censors, most of the time, had hearts and let the sentimental parts go uncut.

    • Dear English Professor at Large! I am so sorry that a bunch of special friends had been put into the dungeon of “Pending Approval” comments. How could people who regularly comment, be suddenly not readily approved? If you had looked at my post on the letters from our soldiers, even up till today, you would have wondered, “Why didn’t my comment show up?”
      I appreciate the reminder of the way the military censors the letters sent home to sweethearts and loved ones. Sort of like wordpress does…
      I liked that you had a boyfriend in the South Pacific, (WWII) and you were allowed to hear simple activities and also, smiling at the sentimental parts that didn’t get edited out with a black marker or scissors! This was an excellent addition to my post and so sorry it was late to be included, by me. Take care and hope you will stay in touch here! I promise to be much more careful of my commenters, who happen to be nice friends, too! Smiles, Robin

  2. A great post, lass. You are so right about the need to keep these precious pieces of history alive. I am sorry for your brother, I remember a boy down the street from us coming back like that…and I was only a little one, you know. we- the neighborhood kids- were scared to go inside his parents’ house…and when i did, all i remember is it being very dark inside, his mother smoking profusely, and loud unorthodox music blaring from behind the vet’s closed door. the story gets worse…the vet’s little brother hung himself later in life…

    • That was such a tragedy. I am so glad that it was my second cousin, Johnny. (He became an artist and did end up having another wife and a son, Nathaniel.)
      My brothers were too young for Viet Nam. Thank God for that blessing! I appreciate the kind words and the solemn addition to my post today.

    • There are so many more powerful letters that Andrew Carroll collected to put into two books. This was just a few that I thought represented a few different eras in history. Take care and hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day, Colleen! I plan on working my 1/2 day Friday and hoping to beat the crowds driving I-71 North to Lake Erie! I will be staying in my Mom’s senior apartment and will see one of my brothers, too. Smiles, Robin

      • I changed the name to the correct person, so sorry. You probably won’t get the edited comment in your email, if I don’t write this out! Thanks, Colleen!

      • I have a book of letters home from Vietnam compiled years ago. I’ll look in to this one too.

        Have a great weekend! Good luck avoiding that traffic. Happy family time. 🙂

      • Colleen, I think the Viet Nam war letters would be especially poignant, since we lived through that particular challenging time. I think the heat, the bugs, different things that were part of the environment and the deadly situation would be fascinating, yet desperately sad, to read about. Thanks for the kind wishes, hope you have some good times over the weekend! Memories, too…. Smiles, Robin

  3. These letters are such an amazing find. Thank you for sharing them. I wish I had some my uncles wrote from WWII, and the uncle and cousins from WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and the ones from the other hot spots around the world. I’ve done so much moving my collection has been lost in the shuffle. These are a history lesson in one post.

    • Thank you so much for sharing where your family members served in the military. I thank them for their service and respect that they did this for our country, too!
      I wish you had those letters, mainly because they capture your family’s history. I will hope to be reading more posts, when I get a chance up at my mom’s community computer. If not, hope you and your family have a wonderful Memorial Day! Thanks for all of your recent comments! Hugs, Robin

    • I was saying I would be good finding sources!! I have to admit, I am not good at condensing my own material… so not sure if I gave you the right idea in this post! Smiles, Robin

  4. Precious, poignant and utterly heartbreaking, especially the one from the 15 year old lad. My father saw many atrocities during the War in Europe, many a man and boy who never saw the light of day. Thankfully he was able to. Thanks for sharing Robin. x

  5. This is devastating to my heart. Thank you, Robin, for reminding us of the real human atrocities of war, up front and personal. Such heartfelt letters. I will go into this Memorial Day weekend with a remembrance of these letters. ❤ ~Karen~

    • Karen, this was so special of you to write this in my comments. I agree with all of your expressions about the atrocities of war. I will go forward with such serious mood, but hope to have some good times, along the way, too. Hoping that you have a wonderful and memorable weekend, Karen! Thank you for your thoughtful words. Hugs, Robin

  6. The wonderful excerpts from the letters you shared in this story are poignant reminders of the hell that is war. We should take pride in knowing these soldiers were prepared to sacrifice everything for what they believed in. At the same time, our government should be ashamed whenever fighting men are put in harm’s way for a cause less noble than the faith these soldiers have in their country. Regardless, the dedication of our armed forces personnel is worthy of our praise. – Mike

    • I am honored by knowing your father served us well. I feel all the same way you do, we need to show respect and honor those who gave their lives and those who put their lives on the line! Take care and hugs, Robin

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