World War II Letters: THE IMPORTANCE OF SHARED PERSONAL HISTORIES
|Mom and Dad early in the war
dinner for the in-laws, right after the war
I’m not sure at what point one’s personal history becomes part of the broader spectrum of human experience. It may sometimes make a connection from the origin of that history . Archeologists rejoice when they find a broken clay jar that once contained olive oil or wine thousands of years ago, or some edict written by hand on vellum affecting lives of thousands under an antique monarch. Certainly, a piece of history like Charles Lindberg’s plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, at the Smithsonian in Washington brings more chills to the public because of its great significance in the history of man’s attempts to fly. Something already famous, like King Tut’s sarcophagus covered in shimmering gold will bring shivers to most viewers. It’s something most of us knew about before even seeing it, so it becomes a kind of shared history when we talk to others who have also seen it.
When I found the boxes of letters written by my father during WWII, I struggled about whether those personal communications would have much significance to the general public, especially those who were not alive during those years 1941-1945. I decided that the backdrop of World War II would be inclusive of pop culture, including music and poster art. It would include many references to a time that was surely our finest hour, when we as a nation were together in a cause of world importance against a powerful evil that might otherwise actually have swallowed up the world had it not been for our collective resolution and united with other nations to take a stand. In that light, every letter home from every soldier in every corner of that massive conflict must surely have significance. Dad served as a sergeant in the United States Army in London during the early part of WWII and then served in the South Pacific on the Island of Guam for the remainder of the war.
We were fighting for home and for everything we held dear along with the English, the French, the Belgians, the Dutch, whose lives had also been plundered by Nazis, Fascists, and the Empire of Japan. I don’t know that soldiers thought of the grand picture of world peace during the many parts they played in that war. I believe that the things that kept them going were not just the eloquent speeches by Churchill and Roosevelt, but rather the memories of sweethearts left at home, babies on the way, sitting down to Sunday dinners with family, going to the movies or soda fountains, watching ball games. That yearning to return home is as old as history itself and always manages to give a human face to incidents on the world stage, maybe especially in times of war.
|Our family in 1948|
Yes, the letters our soldiers wrote home still have a universal connection to what makes us all human. My greatest hope in creating this part of the blog was that others who read it would have “eureka” moments too about their own parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers, from that or any other time and wish to honor those people in whatever way possible. So, if you have old boxes of letters, trunks in the attic, family photo albums, please sit down one afternoon and look through those mementos of your own history, and you will discover that what you find there is part of all our history, human history, all that experience that we share as a mortal species through every picture of smiling loved ones in front of Christmas trees or over birthday cakes. Laugh, cry, write about your sentiments, and perhaps decide what you would like to leave behind for others to find seventy years from now as a reminder that you were once here too. JB