May 29, 2023
On Memorial Day, we stop to remember those who gave their lives in combat to make a good life possible for the rest of us. The Civil War dead were the first soldiers to be honored in this way, but there have been many since then.
I was recently privileged to receive a packet of letters that my aunt received from her Army brothers in World War II. While none of them were killed in battle (thankfully, or I wouldn’t be here to write this), their letters give a glimpse of wartime life that all of them endured.
My father never wrote about his experiences in battle, nor would he talk about them very much when I was a child. The letters he sent were about army life in general, mailed with three cents postage, or six cents airmail.
In 1942, at the age of twenty, Dad was stationed for a time at Camp Bowie in Texas as a company clerk. In one of his many letters, he wrote about being on guard duty. He noted that once, at four o’clock in the morning, he was so sleepy he “tripped over his eyelashes” and fell flat on his face. He felt foolish as he picked himself up and was awake for the rest of the day.
At that time, he enjoyed Army life, but in the following years, his opinion changed. He wrote from Europe about the snow outside their tents. His job then was lineman, stringing telephone cable for military communications. It was a dangerous position. He was at risk of being a sniper target atop telephone poles in freezing temperatures. His letters to my aunt then were more homesick. He missed his mother and sent money to his sister back home to buy roses for his Mom on Mother’s Day. He talked about hoping for a respite by getting a pass to Paris or Brussels.
I imagine most boys in uniform missed their mothers or girlfriends or wives back home. The ones who never got to return left giant, ragged holes in the lives of those who waited for them in vain. So as we remember the fallen soldiers, let us also remember the ones who gave them up unwillingly and had to go on without them.