About two years ago, I posted an update that closed the book on the 1943 letters Babe wrote to his parents or his brother Bob. I had finished transcribing the 60 letters he wrote between February 1943, when he enlisted, and the end of that year. Now, I close the book on the 1944 letters.
And, we enter into a particularly interesting phase of this project with the 1945 letters. I’ll explain more about that in a second.
I have transcribed the 46 letters Babe wrote in 1944 to his parents or to his brother. It’s noteworthy because there were fewer letters in more time — a complete year, versus the 11 months in 1943. As usual, all of the letters include a link to a PDF so you can see a scanned version of the original.
Babe traveled widely in 1943 after his induction — 7,000 miles from his home in Mount Kisco, to the induction center, to basic training, across the Atlantic, across northern Africa and into the boot of Italy. In 1944, he racked up substantially fewer miles, traveling with the 34th Infantry and the Fifth Army through hard-fought combat north into northern Italy.
Since I launched this project on Dec. 3, 2011, I have posted 163 items, including Asides and Commentary. As I said in an earlier post, those categories are fairly loosely defined. Asides tend to be personal stories that sprout from the memories these letters inspire, while Commentary tends to be posts that lend additional context about the war or supplement the content of Babe’s letters.
So far, I’ve written 30 Asides (including this one) and 28 commentaries.
Now, we begin the 1945 letters. There will be fewer of them. Babe, after all, is killed on May 4. That makes some of the letters you will read particularly poignant: I have a small handful of letters that his family mailed to him — letters that were returned because the intended recipient was deceased.
It is somewhat wrenching to read a letter from my grandmother or grandfather knowing what they didn’t know at the time: That their son would never receive their words. That’s compounded with the May 8, 1945, letter my grandfather wrote to Babe, noting the end of the war in Europe. He didn’t know as he sat down to write those words that his son had already been dead four days.
Some letters were sent early in April, but because of the difficulties of delivering the mail to servicemen, they didn’t get to their destination timely enough. I’ve chosen to transcribe them in chronological order, interspersed with the letters from Babe. I’ll be certain to clearly note the difference and any context that would be important to share.
Finally, I want to thank a handful of people who have somehow stumbled on my project and took the time to post comments. Many of those comments have lent additional context to information I posted, or they have shared personal reflections about the people and places I have mentioned here.
Thanks to George Pouder, Suzanne S. Barnhill, Deidre Foster, Michael Degnan, “Willy and Joe,” Robert H. Webster, Gary Babineau, “Mike,” Arnie Pritchard, Eileen Mauro Rapacciuolo, Katheen Fairbrother, EC Lapping, Jane Watkins, Kirby Larson, Mike Patzek, Rich Thayer, Charlie Sherpa, “Luca,” “Kevin” and Jeanne King.
Note: The image above is a word cloud of the letters Babe wrote in 1944. It’s supposed to show words that showed up more often larger than those used more rarely. It was created at Wordle.net. You can discount words like “PDF” or “postmarked.” Those are words I included as part of my context with the letters. But “get” seems prominent, probably because he notes when he gets packages and letters. As usual, the words “well,” “happy” and “safe” are prominent.