Sunday, February 7, 2016

Love Letters from the Greatest Generation

My parents were of the Greatest Generation, born in 1918 and 1920. When Dad enlisted in the Army during WWII, my Mother and their a one-year old (my oldest sister) moved to MO to stay with her parents. Mom was pregnant with baby #2. After training camp in 1944, Dad was sent to combat in [mostly] Italy, until his return home in 1946, after months of recovering in an Army hospital from loss of limb. Lucky for my siblings and me, we have some of the letters my Dad sent to Mom during his time of service.
In this season of love, I think it's appropriate to share snippets of my Dad's love letters to my Mom while he served in the Army, prior to his injury. (Note: I wrote a personal tribute to my Dad for his service to our country and to our family, on Memorial Day, 2014. If you're interested, you can read it here.) The letters my family has kept were written from Dad to Mom during the months prior to and just after my sister was born in 1944. Dad's letters were full of hope, longing and love.
"With all my love, Tom" - Dad in US Army Training Camp - June, 1944
A little bit of history:  letters sent during WWII were sent by either airmail or V-mail. I wasn't sure what the difference was, so I researched it. V-mail, or Victory mail, was implemented during the war, to conserve space on airplanes when sending letters back to the states. Servicemen would compose their letters on government-issued stationery (about 7" x 9"), and the letters would then be inspected, censoring any potentially sensitive information (blacked out). The letters would then be photographed and put on microfilm in thumb-size negatives. The film canisters would be shipped by airplane, conserving precious cargo space that piles of letters would otherwise consume, both in weight and volume. Once received by the postmaster at the destination in the states, the letters would be printed on a reduced size paper, just a little more than 4" x 5" (not much bigger than postcard size).

Another very interesting fact of V-mail communication was, besides the fact of postal censorship, it employed invisible ink, microdots, and microprinting, all of which were impossible to photocopy. These were just some of our military's techniques designed to avert any potential espionage communications.

Dad's penmanship was beautiful, his salutations and closings anything but ordinary, and the body of his letters always informative, providing a glimpse into that era where most American history class instruction nowadays gets short-changed with the end of school year time running out (at least that was my experience). Here's one example, as Dad wrote of his initial trip overseas.
V-mail, detailing first trip overseas during WWII
Dad wrote, " This is quite a breath-taking experience but can't you imagine how these kids of younger years are thinking. Much lighter thoughts than my own believe me. If I were to travel all over the world you and the family are my only real thoughts." He went on, "Enroute to aboard the ship for the first time I saw the nation's capital and also the Washington Monument. About the most pleasing thing was a scrap metal yard of Nazi captured planes at Richmond." He closed, "With increasing love, Tom~"

Another letter showed his salutation, "My Darling Wife:", with a portion of the Army Examiner Censor's Stamp in the top left corner.
V-mail salutation, Censor's Stamp
Another letter illustrated an example of  information censored. In this case, it was dates which Dad was informing Mom of possible furloughs. Again, his closing - "I'm forever yours. With all my love, Tom ~"
V-mail example of censorship (dates)
Another letter shows names of cities blacked out, indicating where Dad's platoon saw action. He said, "The war can't last much longer. The Allies are closing in on the enemy from all sides. A few good bombing of the German cities _________________ and I believe they will crack." (Note: the war lasted another year beyond the date of this letter from my Dad).
V-mail example of censorship (cities)
It was evident that Dad eventually learned how to communicate without divulging enemy-sensitive information, as shown by a subsequent letter (below), which was not censored. It states, "Somewhere in Italy"
V-mail vaguery, "Somewhere in Italy"
Dad's sentiments for Mom's situation of having two babies without him present were sensitive throughout, and his closings always seemingly heartfelt.
V-mail closing, "Forever yours in love"
{Sigh}. In a time when cursive writing is becoming obsolete, wherein emails and text messages are the new norm for many to say, "I ♥ U", do you ever wonder if a genuine sense of emotion is lost in the translation? Call me old-fashioned, but I cherish the cards and letters I receive from loved ones, especially on birthdays - our one, individual and special day. I keep many of mine received.

How do you feel about today's standards for communicating, and what's your standard? What are your feelings about cursive writing in the classroom? Do you have children or grandchildren who are not learning cursive writing? Are we dummying down basic skills which generations before us valued greatly, both in terms of education and lifelong relationships?  I hope not.

I hope you will consider sending your loved ones real letters or cards this year, whether it's Valentine's Day, birthday, or whatever you consider a special enough occasion to really communicate. Even better, call them and chat real-time, or visit them in person. It really makes a difference to the recipient, trust me.

As always, I appreciate your readership, and your comments always invite welcome exchanges.
Rita C. at Panoply