I recently inherited several bundles of letters and telegrams that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother while he was away during WWII. One of my projects this summer is to go through them and figure out how best to preserve them so that they don't deteriorate any further.
Reading through these letters, I'm feeling a mix of emotions. One is, of course, sorrow at the loss of my granddad. I miss him. And I know that Grammy must miss him tremendously. But aside from that, it's really a gift to have these letters and to get the chance to know him in a different way. As I read them, I hear his voice in my head.
Sometimes I laugh with the recognition of particular phrases or bits of personality that are just so him. In this particular letter, he mentions how little they get to eat, but not in a complaining way, just as a matter of fact. And he says that he finds the food "sufficient," which is so him. He never was one to complain about anything. Once I was helping him write a narrative of his time spent as a POW, and he described his treatment at the hands of enemy soldiers as "not that bad." My grammy interrupted as he was telling the story with, "Byron, you told me they threatened to kill you every day if you didn't give them information." And he replied, "Well, yeah...but they never DID!" And that was Granddaddy, always focusing on the positive.
It also gives me chills to read his plans for the future. He keeps reassuring Grammy that he'll be okay and that they're going to have a wonderful life together when he gets home. Just knowing that he WAS okay and that they DID have that wonderful life (60 years of marriage, three children, nine grandchildren, and nineteen great-grandchildren, at last count) makes me so happy for him. For them. For all of us.
Theirs is a great love story. And Granddad truly did have a wonderful life, despite all he went through during the war.
Here's a photo of him in his uniform. Isn't he handsome?!
And here is one of his letters (though I'm not sure if it's going to be readable):
He nearly always begins with "Dearest Doris," and closes with "your Byron."
I like this letter because he talks about how one of the guys has labelled him a "sentimentalist." He replies by saying, "I don't know, but if all the hopes and plans I have for you and I and Jr. after the war makes me one, well that's what I am then." (Grammy was pregnant with their first child at this time, who turned out to be my Aunt Pinky, and not Jr. after all.)
I'm looking forward to reading and sorting the rest of the bundles while Eliot is in daycare this summer, even though reading these private communications makes me feel a bit like a trespasser. I guess I can take comfort that the army censors read all of them before me? So they were never truly private? Some of the letters have sections that have been cut out or blackened, whenever he apparently referred to something off-limits. From the context, I can glean that what they've removed are mostly references to locations (at least so far).
I hope that Granddad wouldn't mind me reading these (and posting them on the Internet?!). I don't think he would. I see them as a wonderful piece of not only my own family history, but of American history as well. I think he would see the letters themselves as insignificant, now that they've served their original purpose. I wish I could ask him.