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
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
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
“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
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
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
“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
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:
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
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
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
“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
for Memorial Day, 2014.