3/28/2014

Letters Home from the Greatest Generation - Part I

 

 

Uncle John and Alice

 

My Uncle John passed away at the ripe old age of 89 in a VA nursing home on January 10, 2011. He won the Silver Star for action at Omaha Beach in the Invasion of Normandy, D-Day on June 6, 1944. He always kept that medal locked away in a small safe at his home. Uncle John was never one to brag on himself. However, it was his last request that it be pinned on him upon his death. His wish was granted by his children.

In the months to come, I will publish excerpts from letters from my Uncle John that he wrote to his high school sweetheart, Alice. They had plans to get married on December 17, 1941. However, Japan changed all that on December 7, 1941. In the months to come, I will publish parts of his letters. The excerpt below is just one that he sent to his mother (my grandmother) when he was stationed in England. He was stationed in Boddington, England along with his division for about a year. You can see the fear in some of his letters. He left in his will that if it was ok with Alice's family, I could have these letters he sent Alice many years ago. Alice's family obliged this request upon my uncle's death. He knew how much I enjoy writing. I was told I could do with them as I wish. There are parts that I will omit out of respect for both Uncle John and Alice. I just feel it is the right thing to do. They are just too personal between two lovers in that era of Big Bands, Frank Sinatra, FDR, fear, hatred and death. It was an era when a madman decided he would try to extinguish anyone who was not pure Aryan. It was a generation of which they had no choice but to stop this madman. Losing was not an option. I feel that today is a good time to start these letters. I will probably conclude on Veterans Day of this year. I will not write each week. But, I will probably do about one a month (at least). There are 87 letters in all. Obviously, I can't write about all those letters. A few of the letters were to his mom, my grandmother on my father's side.

My Uncle John grew up on a farm outside a small town in the central part of Alabama. He basically joined the U.S. Army to get away from the family farm. He had no idea what lay in front of him as he joined the Army in September of 1940. War was the talk in the air at that time. But, Americans wanted no part of the latest "European War" as it was referred to prior to December 1941. Uncle John and Alice started "spending time together" during high school, at Sunday School and at the Saturday night dances held in this little Alabama town. Uncle John was something of an athlete as he played football, basketball and baseball for his high school. Alice was a cheerleader and participated in the chess club as well. I have no letters from her, unfortunately. All are from Uncle John. Alice was a blond, blue-eyed beauty back in the day. According to what I could gather from Uncle John's letters, she was quite shy and introverted. My uncle brought her out of that as best he could. But, she was always a bit shy according to my grandmother.

This first excerpt is the first letter Uncle John sent to his mother from Boddington, England. He had just arrived two days prior to writing this letter. The commanding officer ordered everyone to write one letter home to let their family know they were doing ok. All letters had to pass through a censor. My grandmother stated that sometimes she would get a letter that had been blacked out in certain passages of the letter. Sometimes, they just had xxx As I said, this first letter is from Uncle John to his mother, my grandmother. He finished this letter and wrote another to Alice. This is a short excerpt from that first letter. My uncle was a prodigious letter writer. Some of the letters were as much as eight pages long. Some were less than half a page as you will see after he landed in France in 1944. Anything from Uncle John will be in italics. I might give brief explanations in the middle of the letter. That will be in bold type. Most, not all, spelling errors will be noted by me. I want this as realistic as possible. This is the only letter I will publish from Uncle John when he was stationed in England undergoing preparations for D-Day. He wrote many letters while there for a year. The letters he wrote after the Invasion of Normandy are the ones that I personally find fascinating and, at the same time, disturbing. Some letters are quite graphic in nature with what my uncle saw. So, reader be warned in the weeks ahead. Uncle John's spelling and grammar aren't the best. But, you will understand what he is trying to convey. Here now, is that very first letter to my grandmother from Uncle John:

Cpl John S. Wxxxx
IV Division, Third Infantry, U.S. Army
Boddington, England
May 14, 1943
Dear Mama
How are you doing mama? I am doing just fine. We made it in just two days ago. I plannned (sp) on writing as soon as I got here. But, we have been really busy getting our equipment set up for training exercises. Sgt Caffey said we might as well get use to doing all this because we will do it all the time from now on. It is cold and dreery (sp) looking around here. I always wanted to travel around the world. But, I never expected to do it this way. I have not seen many of the English people around this base. It is all English military people. I can't get use to be calling a chap by these English guys. I am not sure what that is suppose to mean to me. I hope it means they like me. I am a long way from home mama. It seems a long way from Fort Benning to. I can't tell you what I have seen here. But, everything you have read in the newspaper and heard on the radio is true. That is all I will say. These English people are not going to give up. None of us can give up. please do not worrie (sp) about me. I know you will. But, I will be ok. Remember my promise before I left. I am coming back. I never will brake (sp) a promise to my mama. 

Do you think daddy is still mad? I hope not. I just was not the type for the farm mama. I hope you all understand why I had to get away. This war is something that I have to do to defend my country. I am no better than the other guys around here. xxxxxxxxxxxxx But, I am not sure if we will are are (sp) not. Tell daddy hello for me. I love him no matter how mad he may be with me. I just have to do this, mama. We can't live under the boothill (sp) of Hitler. We have to win this fight. Being here in England and training is part of winning this war. Have you seen Alice lately mama? I think about her all the time. I think about you to mama. I am going to write Alice a letter after I write you one. I worrie (sp) alot. I worrie about some of the guys here. I am not worrie about myself. I know I will be ok. I love you mama. I love you more than I realized ever before now. I thank you for all the things you taught me as a boy.I hope I don't disappoint you and daddy in the battles to come. I want to make you proud of me. We face an evil that scares me sometimes, mama. I have nightmares about it. We have to win this war. We just have to. I need to write Alice now while I have some time.
I love you, mama.
Johnny

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