It’s Tough When Babe Sounds Like the 19-Year-Old He Is

In so many of the letters Babe writes, it’s easy to forget that he’s only a 19-year-old young man. His writing style is easy, his sentences simple and declarative. His grammar and spelling are, for the most part, very good. But Babe’s most recent letter sounds like that of a spoiled child. His tone is impertinent and immature. It’s hard to read.

It’s also one of the frustrations of this one-way conversation. I have only the letters Babe wrote, and none of the letters his parents wrote while he was still alive. I don’t know what prompted his joy or gratefulness in some letters, his anger and frustration in others — like this one.

“Nothing would make me more angry or more ashamed of you than to have you write the letter you planned to write.”

What had his parents — my grandparents — written to him? What had they threatened to do that sparked such a flash of anger? I can only speculate from the context that they’ve been asking him for more details about what he does and where he is. Perhaps his parents are worried about him. Perhaps they are doing what parents do: Nag their children to make sure they’re OK. But he’s having none of it: “If there is anything you want to know and I won’t tell you, there is no other way for you to find it out. So don’t try.”

Very harsh. On the other hand, he’s been forthcoming a bit, and I suspect he’s worried to say too much for fear of his letters being censored. He described a bit about the fellow radio operator in his unit. And he had just recently described in some detail the routine of visiting a local family, who they were and ways that the Italians made a living by building things for the troops.

But one of the biggest sources of his frustration seems to be constant pestering by his family for him to send a photo of himself. “I can’t send you a picture so I suggest you paste this letter on the wall above the desk to remind you about it,” he writes, again with some of that impertinence we’ve seen. And then in this last letter it seems to boil over.

And all the while leading up to it, we think he’s just eager for some pictures from home. No; he’s just being passive-aggressive: “The reason I kept asking you for pictures is to show you how I feel when I get that many letters from you asking me for the same thing.”

In today’s age of instant digital photography, ubiquitous cellphone photography, Twitpics and massive Facebook albums shared in moments, it’s easy to forget that making a photograph had to be a big deal in 1944. A camera wasn’t likely an easy thing to lug around in an infantryman’s pack. I don’t know where you’d find film, or a place to develop it. Or print photographs.

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