On Patrol

Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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The Letter Project is our campaign to collect and showcase letters sent to and from U.S. war veterans of all conflicts, including the Civil War, World War II, and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jack Woodville London is an acclaimed author and World War II historian. A graduate of the University of Texas Law School and a former captain in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, he and his wife, Alice, live in Austin, Texas.Jack Woodville London is an acclaimed author and World War II historian. A graduate of the University of Texas Law School and a former captain in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps, he and his wife, Alice, live in Austin, Texas.

The ultimate goal of the Letter Project is to shine a light on the stories and sacrifices of soldiers and their families by making more war letters readily available.

When America’s troops serve, certainly during wartime, we believe we are coming home, no matter how much we may fear the odds. 

Although America certainly has career soldiers, we are nothing like Europe where, historically, a man entered the Army or Navy with the intention of living out his life in garrison or barracks, wherever the fortunes of the king sent him -- India, the Seven Seas, darkest Africa or the Far East.

It was assumed that a European soldier would never come home for good.

We Americans are different. When we’re in uniform we write letters to maintain contact with people we love, people who want to know that we are alive and well, and to ask about crops and horses, neighbors and cars put in storage -- all the artifacts of life that imply that we are coming home for good when ‘this’ is over. We keep our citizen life alive and keep hope alive in those who want our sacrifice to be less than ultimate and for our absence to be temporary. These letters are hope for the present and promise for the future.

Sharing these letters gives the rest of us a window, perhaps the only window, into the real lives of people we often knew only as parents, grandparents, avuncular revenants who often came into our lives long after their time in harm’s way.

An envelope addressed by Lieutenant Samuel Evans, E . Co., 104th Infantry Regiment, 26th “Yankee” Division.An envelope addressed by Lieutenant Samuel Evans, E . Co., 104th Infantry Regiment, 26th “Yankee” Division.These letters frequently are the real, perhaps only, history of American times and cultures long gone and eroded, a country where we lived in the same town as our cousins, stuck with who we married, and planned to build our own houses and work as long as it took to finish whatever we had been hired to do

One of my goals was to enable people to connect to one another. That is happening -- the family of a World War II veteran who is dying in Arizona learned of a man who served with him in Belgium, through a letter I had put online. It connected them both to Camp Roberts where each of them trained in 1944 -- a fact that surfaced in their respective letters.

My personal favorite is a letter written by Corporal Lee Howard, stationed in Foggia, Italy – Thanksgiving,1945.  He was guarding a parking lot, watching Italian women scrounge for food to stay alive. He asked in his letter, “Why must these people go hungry? Why must they suffer for something they aren’t responsible for?  The ones who got fat under Fascist rule are managing to stay fat under Allied rule, at least most of them. I cannot understand why God allows it to be this way.”

A single page from a long hand-written letter. It was written December 18, 1944 in Belgium and mentions that the “Jerries” have started up something against the 1st and 9th Divisions and he hopes that the 1st and the 9th hit them pretty hard to speed up the end of the war. He had no idea, indeed his commanders had no idea, that this ‘push’ would become the Battle of the Bulge, a German thrust back into Belgium trying to capture Antwerp to block off Allied shipping and re-supply. It became the deadliest U.S. single engagement of the war in Europe. The last letter is actually from a Congressman to his family comforting them about his being in the hospital.A single page from a long hand-written letter. It was written December 18, 1944 in Belgium and mentions that the “Jerries” have started up something against the 1st and 9th Divisions and he hopes that the 1st and the 9th hit them pretty hard to speed up the end of the war. He had no idea, indeed his commanders had no idea, that this ‘push’ would become the Battle of the Bulge, a German thrust back into Belgium trying to capture Antwerp to block off Allied shipping and re-supply. It became the deadliest U.S. single engagement of the war in Europe. The last letter is actually from a Congressman to his family comforting them about his being in the hospital.

Corporal Howard, formerly an artillery gunner, came home to enter the ministry. He was ordained and, some 20 years later, his church was firebombed in Tennessee during the Civil Rights conflict of the 1960s.

The oldest letter is from the Civil War. It tells the heart-breaking story of a Texas soldier who had been missing for several years, found in a Union prisoner camp, exchanged back to the Confederacy and, and then caught up in the horrific battle at Missionary Ridge.

The most recent letters I have received came to me from a Navy doctor in Iraq; he wrote his letters on the back of Iraqi cereal boxes. Most of the letters, however, tend to be from the Greatest Generation, those who fought in World War II.

Until e-mail, letters from soldiers were not facile dashes popped off and soon forgotten in an avalanche of messages. They were hard to write, hard to send and receive, and valuable to keep. I hope to preserve and share them before they get too far away. That is why I started The Letter Project.

Please read some of the letters, forward them, and contribute to The Letter Project, at http://jwlbooks.com/. If you have letters that you are willing to share with others, please consider sharing them with all of us, here, online by uploading them right on the site or sending copies of them to The Letters Project.  Thank you for being a part of The Letters Project. 

 

Jack Woodville London is a graduate of the University of Texas Law School and a former captain in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. Today he is a trial attorney, World War II historian, and award-winning author of the French Letters series of World War II novels. He and his wife, Alice, live in Austin, Texas.