I am currently working on creating a booklet out of two year’s worth of WWII letters to home. My husband’s grandfather was drafted and entered the military the day before his wedding anniversary. He wrote home almost every day. Fortunately the family had saved the letters, but no one had really looked at them.
I never got to know PawPaw very well. He was a rangy, rather quiet fellow, a retired farmer, a Tennessee country boy. Whenever we visited the few times a year, he liked to repeat the same silly jokes, with such a twinkle in his eyes that I couldn’t help but laugh. Reading his letters, I came to know a devoted family man who dearly missed the “honey and babies” he was forced to leave. Even though his writing is simple, with almost nonexistent punctuation, he wrote of the “flying fish like grasshoppers over the blue sea.” His story is neither full of action nor of much historical fact, but it is a picture of life on a supply ship: the boredom of an endless ocean interrupted by rough storms and even a typhoon or two, liberty on islands of sea shells and brown natives, never knowing the future, worrying about the family and the farm back home.
A friend working on recreating her father’s WWII story had only ship newsletters and official paperwork to go by. After her mother’s death, her father threw out his letters to home, thinking they were of no interest to anyone. Though he had stories, he didn’t want them written down, saying they were not worth anything. So many people say that about their stories, thinking that since they were nobody special their stories are not important. Yet history is also made up of everyday lives, the kind that tend to be left out of the pages of books. Yes, we like to read about decisive events and famous people, but we’re also curious about how ordinary people lived – in those days, and under those circumstances, which may not be so long ago. The world changes so quickly these days.
This Sunday, March 14, 8pm Central time, HBO presents the first of a ten-episode series entitled “The Pacific.” Produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Gary Goetzman, the miniseries is based on the memoirs of Marines Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, the story of war hero John Basilone, and interviews with other veterans who fought in the Pacific arena of WWII. The series depicts on a personal level the battles of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, and Okinawa and ends with the mens’ wary homecoming. Warning: Episode 9 is said to be disturbing to watch. The Pacific website
offers a place to submit stories of military service or to pay tribute to today’s (or yesterday’s) soldiers. A companion book, with additional personal stories, was released earlier this month.
Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific by Robert Leckie
With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge
Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Marine Legend John Basilone by James Brady