Yesterday and last week, I posted two letters a young lady named Carol Tavares wrote to Babe. I know nothing about Carol, other than her address at the time: 146-53 Shore Ave., Jamaica, New York (I think the picture, courtesy of Google Streetview, is the block where Carol lived).
With the first letter, I mused about whether she may have been a sweetheart to Babe; the tenor of the second letter, however, persuades me otherwise. There is absolutely nothing mushy in the writing. She signs off with a simple, “Always, Carol.”
At that point, I remembered a letter I had received in June 1995, a few weeks after my article about Babe was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Sunday magazine. Carol Tavares wasn’t a sweetheart; she was a teenaged pen pal. And the letter I received is the reason I think so.
Out of the blue, delivered to me in the Sun-Sentinel’s newsroom, was a sweet letter from an older lady dated June 15, 1995.
Dear Mr. Greenbaum,
This letter is in regard to the article which was in the magazine section of the Sun-Sentinel.
My attention was drawn immediately to the picture of the young soldier taken so many years ago. I recognized it as the very same one I have in one of my photo albums!
I corresponded with Frank Mauro and he sent me the photo, as we had never met — we were merely pen pals — our names were given to each other by a friend in the service with Frank. (I never knew him as “Babe”).
I hope you heard from others too, who may have corresponded with Frank.
(P.S. He knew me as “Lynn” Jensen.)
I wrote back to Ms. Kaiser and did not hear from her again until March 1996. She was a “snowbird”: a wintertime resident of Fort Lauderdale who returned to her Connecticut home in the summer. She sent me snapshots of her photo album that show our famous photo of Babe and another page with another picture of him in Italy, but they are such poor quality snapshots that I cannot make out any details.
She invited me to visit her to see the photo albums in person. She closed that letter this way:
Unfortunately, all the old letters were destroyed years ago. I did not know the particulars about his death — only that he was deceased (as was marked on letters returned to me).
Not long after that, as it turns out, my parents were in town. I arranged a visit with my mother to Ms. Kaiser’s Fort Lauderdale condo in a towering beachfront building.
We had a wonderful conversation and saw the pictures in her album first-hand. But for the life of me, I can’t remember anything else about that meeting. I can’t believe I don’t have a picture of Evelyn Kaiser.
But on the other hand, it was 1996. If I took a film camera with me and took pictures, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised that I lost track of them. Maybe somewhere in my collection of prints I have one. But maybe not; I don’t even remember what film camera I might have owned in 1996. There was no consumer-grade digital photography, and certainly no cellphone photography back then.
Does anyone know about any systematic look at the phenomena of young girls writing letters to random servicemen in WWII? I’ve Googled around to look, and have seen the occasional one-off mention of it happening, like this 2012 article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s website. But nothing that looks like a broader exploration of this habit. I wondered if it was a coordinated effort nationally, or just something that happened in local communities at random.