Letters Home from War – Part One: Anesthesia for the pain of time and distance

In this anniversary month of the commencement of the Civil War, of the battles to capture Italy and the liberation of concentration camps in Germany, it does well to reflect on the thoughts that occupied the minds of those who were there. Few of them actually said what they thought; the men who were in the war rarely spoke of what they had been through. But, they did write home. Some of their families have shared their letters, and their thoughts.

In September 1944, Second Lieutenant Samuel Evans wrote to his family in Texas “Just a note to let you know I couldn’t be in better shape, considering my location.” His location was in the combat zone in France and, though he didn’t know it, he soon would be in the Battle of the Bulge. He numbered the letters so his family could tell if any were missing, and he used a V-Mail form to send this particular letter. V-Mails were World War II government forms on which the writer composed a letter, turned it in to the unit or post office, and the government turned it into a microfilm copy, sending it on a film strip with thousands of others to the US or the combat zone where it would be received, enlarged, and delivered.

Lieutenant Evans would go on to write about not being in too much combat, being in the rain, wanting to see Vickie, and he asked about Uncle Bob and Ed. Several thousand miles away, Corporal Cecil Turner wrote his family that Africa should not be called the Dark Continent because there were so many wild flowers. Several more thousand miles away, and decades later, Spec 4 Mike Mullins wrote from Viet Nam that he wanted his sister’s basketball team to give ‘em hell. Several thousand miles in the other direction, and over nine hundred years earlier, Count Stephen wrote from Antioch to his wife, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, asking that she watch carefully over their land and do right by their children and vassals.

Though separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, their letters are remarkably similar in some respects. Each says in its own way ‘I am safe, things here are under control, I am thinking about the life we had before I was taken away to war, and I will come home as soon as the war is over.’ The letters were written in part to ease the pain of separation and fear by telling those left behind that, one day, life as it was before the war would resume and that they would come home to be a part of it. They were more than anesthetic for the writer — they were intended to ease the people who would read them.

Read these and other letters from soldiers to the home front on the Letters Project here on my website. Count Stephen’s letter, the oldest letter we have from a soldier to his wife during war, may be read on line at
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:2IIRZrDsjRAJ:history.hanover.edu/texts/1stcrusade2.html+Stephen,+Count+of+Blois+letter+to+Adela+crusades&cd=7&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&source=www.google.com

Next: Part Two: Letters that don’t say everything