Several weeks ago, a letter came into my possession, sent to me from a cousin who found it while going through his late mother’s things. His mother was my great-aunt and the sister of my grandfather, and she was the last of the five siblings to depart this life for the next. The letter, which had been among her things for a long time was one written by my grandfather to his father, my great-grandfather and it was not one I had ever seen or heard about before.
It was written on February 10th, 1944, from a time and place both alien to me, yet it is remarkable in many ways because it opens a brief window into the past and during an event which every day grows dimmer in the collective memories of America. I wanted to share it here, especially with today being Memorial Day. Even though he came back from that war intact, so many of the men he served with did not and I know that weighed on him a lot in his later years.
Memorial Day was never a day he and his fellow surviving Veterans took lightly. His surviving the war gave him a great deal of spiritual reflection and led him in the years after the War to become a minister.
To help the reader understand a few things, my grandfather was the son of a farmer who had a very hard life and working existence in Lula, Georgia. He was already in his 30’s when he was drafted and had been both a teacher and a school principal. Although he served on the front and in combat, his education, rare at that time, finally got him off of the front lines and into a job as a clerk. This duty, much safer than the front lines, may have well spared his life. He was a few months away from his 34th birthday when he wrote this letter.
From things he told me many years later, I think things were a lot worse than he wanted his family to know at that time and he tried to be somewhat upbeat in his letter about conditions and Army life during World War II. The “Roy” he mentions in the letter is in reference to his 17 year old brother who would not be able to join the war until the following year. I’m not going to edit the letter so please overlook any grammar that might not be just right. These are his words and I can’t fathom the place he wrote them from, both physically and mentally. To change them in any way would do a disservice to him.
North Africa, February 10, 1944
I trust you are fine in every way. As for me I feel good, my cold is lots better, however our pretty weather seems to be over for a spell. It is rainy and cold, the mountains not far distant is covered with snow. They are pretty.
This cold is different to what you have, it goes right through. Probably due to the nearness to the sea but we have plenty of clothes. I wear two suits of wool clothes, one under long suit, then the wool OD’s and a jacket. Then our tents are pretty snug too, with good heaters. All and all, if you just knew how well fixed I am you wouldn’t worry as to my comfort.
According to the few reports we get, you must be having a pretty rough winter. I guess it takes you pretty well all the time to keep wood and do the things.
Did you make enough corn to do you this time, I hope so. I was just thinking what kind of coat you were wearing for every day. If you are wearing old ragged ones, wear mine or buy you a warm jacket.
Well I haven’t any news to write, only that I am fine and so glad that you all haven’t had any serious sickness. I remembered that it was your birthday, fifty-six I believe, so happy birthday. I have a younger dad than most the boys in here my age. So I want you to take care of yourself and don’t work out in the cold and expose yourself cause I hope to be with you all in two or three years and relax for a little spell.
You see, if I had been back in the states I could have probably had about forty days furlough with you all, so since it has been otherwise, I guess I will just have to take mine when it is over.
I heard from eight different people Sunday, that helps. Bonnie Sue wrote a long nice letter. Several have said they enjoyed the little piece I wrote to the paper, even (not boasting) Bonnie said Hilton told her and Mr. Gucker it was the best one he had read, well I appreciate that lots.
I find that it just takes more patience every day. You think, and I used to think we had little things to try our patience. Well we didn’t, that is compared to what I know now. I have to take lots in trying to live right, also I don’t get any ratings, but I can take it for a few years when I compare what the pay off means in the end.
I can say one thing-I don’t have to do any actual work, just be on the job. See after the mail and do my running around in a Jeep and stay in the Orderly Room and answer two telephones, write passes and like Uncle Idus, answer hundreds of questions. Of course you know one gets tired of a gang, but it doesn’t do any good. You work in one, eat in one, sleep in one when you can sleep. So it is all the time. Nevertheless, there are some swell fellows. Nearly all enjoy drinking and cursing, however they call me Preacher, but I try to be kind to drunks and all.
So just remember when the cow kicks the milk out and Roy [unreadable] the ox and Sport aggravates you and Roy asks lots of foolish questions, that all that is little things that I would scarcely think of any more. You can be alone all along, read, figure, listen to the programs you like, sit by the fire at night and be calm.
Now I’m not grumbling at my lot. I don’t mean that, for I am a hundred times better off than the majority overseas I guess and I am happy that God has smiled on me. I have several books that have been sent me, when I have time to read-so far as actual work is concerned but instead I have to listen to alot of bull and be interrupted so much until I have finally [only] read two of them and I do like to read too.
Well I must hurry to a close, and see about the mail, so just remember to be thankful for home, comforts, love and above all peace and quiet when you want it. I think of you all continuously and am glad to do this and what is necessary for you all to have a home and happiness. I couldn’t send a present this time but send my love and best wishes for a happy birthday and many more.
Article published May 25, 2015 by The Literate Pen