Friday, July 4, 2014

War Letters: Your Unknown Admirer

Since it's the Fourth of July, I thought another War Letters story might be appropriate.  

A few months ago I found a box of old letters at an estate sale.  A lady had passed away, and no one else seemed interested in them.

I opened the box and saw what was inside.

V-Mail.  War letters.  Yes. 

So often at estate sales, I see people who collect stamps buy old letters just for the stamps on the envelopes.  I'm afraid a lot of the correspondence inside just gets tossed in the trash or in a recycling bin, and the stories of our men and women in uniform are irretrievably lost.  

I read some of the letters, which told snippets of the stories of several members of the Greatest Generation.

Like many young women during World War II , Yvet in New York City corresponded with several young men who were off serving their country.

One was Jesse, protecting the coast of Mexico from attack :

"...Our job was to survey and lay out balloon sites along the Mexican coastline.  It was a tough, God-awful job -- the Pacific coast of Mexico is just about the most deserted place in the entire world -- and I'm a person who likes to see lots of people, big cities, etc., and stare a Scotch and soda straight in the eye.  It was all work, and absolutely no play. (As a matter of fact, the first thing I did when I got back to California, was to go on the world's hitherto greatest known bender)...."

One was John, at the Naval Mine Warfare School in Virginia:

"I'll be you think I'm getting very lazy, not answering your letter sooner, but I just got it today...."

One was Morrie, recently promoted to Captain, who sent her V-Mail from Somewhere in England:

"...The Group officers including myself are set up in an English Manor House which has all modern conveniences.  In fact it is a modern house -- only three hundred years old.  We have an inside toilet and bath.... The house is surrounded by a tremendous lawn with some beautiful gardens that are maintained by a gardener employed by the Air Ministry from whom the good old US rents it on a reverse Lend Lease proposition.  The food is excellent....  Of course my pilots have a slightly rougher time of it but so far they are doing an excellent job and managing quite well...."

And one was Abe, in basic training in Texas:

"Yours received and am always so happy to hear from you.  Snow has just melted and am enjoying Indian Summer in the great Southwest...."

And Yvet wrote to them all.

Somewhere along the line in 1943, one of Yvet's letters to Abe was accidentally delivered to another soldier with the same first and last name, stationed not in Texas but in England:

"Am writing to you this short note to inform you of my mistake in opening your letter.  As you can see by my name that I was really justified in doing so.  I am enclosing your letter so that you will not be too hard on my namesake for not answering.  I would love to heave from you when & if you receive this note..."

Abe #2 explained that he didn't get much mail, and he felt some sort of connection to the young woman whose letter he'd received by accident:

"...I also come from New York which makes you & I a little closer.  Hoping you receive this in good health I remain, your unknown admirer, Abe."

And she wrote back to him as well.

The letters Yvet saved from the Second Abe cover a period between 1943 and 1945.  He wrote to her from Somewhere In France (according to the heading of the letter) of his experiences with a French family:

"It has been my pleasure to be introduced to some very nice French people, with whom I have become real friendly.  A mother, whose husband has been a prisoner of the Germans for the past two years.  Her daughter, a young girl of 14, who is studying to be a stenographer and typist.  Whenever I get the opportunity I am always [visiting? writing?] at their house.  There is..." [next page]

"...nothing they wouldn't do for me.  This Christmas, I have been invited to a supper, which I hope I can be able to make.  There are so many things that these French people have gone through that it would take quite a time to relate...."

Yvet saved all these war letters from servicemen.  Did she marry one of them after the war? Apparently not.  The box also contained the draft card of a fellow named Moe, who didn't join the military until a few months before the end of World War II -- and a copy of a wedding invitation for Yvet and Moe dated May 1946.  There were also telegrams congratulating them on their marriage, and letters from friends and relatives dated after the wedding.

Still, she saved all these letters from her friends.

They'll be going to the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, to join the other war letters I've found at estate sales.  Scholars and researchers will be able to use them, along with the 90,000+ other letters in the collection, to piece together more information about what went on, at home and abroad, during World War II.

Here's their website:

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