9780743202947 / 0743202945

War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars





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About the book:

"I've cast out my razor, divorced my soap, buried my manners, signed my socks to a two-year contract, and proved that you don't have to come in out of the rain." So wrote Corporal Thomas P. Noonan from Vietnam, proving that humor doesn't fail even in war. Noonan's letter is just one of over 50,000 that letter-enthusiast Andrew Carroll (Letters of a Nation) received after Abigail Van Buren publicized his Legacy Project in her Dear Abby column. Out of this treasure trove he selected 150, spanning 130 years of warfare from the Civil War to Bosnia. While there are letters from such notables as General William Tecumseh Sherman and even Julia Childs, most were written by uncelebrated but dearly loved soldiers from barracks, trenches, and flooded foxholes and by combat journalists, nurses, and family members on the home front.

While the letters are not unrelentingly grim, there is ample description of the rending agonies of war and the pain of separation. For instance, a recounting of horrors found in a Nazi concentration camp, or a tender letter to a just-born daughter who may never be seen. Private First Class Richard King describes the death of a Catholic chaplain blessing the foxholes: "An artillery shell cut him in half at the waist." Staff Sergeant Joe Sammarco tells how he crawled, wounded, across streams and into hills in order to escape the Chinese, propelled by the thought of his wife and his babies. Many of these are "last letters," often received after the news of the writer's death. Lieutenant Tommie Kennedy, a POW on a Japanese "hell ship," wrote his farewells on the only thing he had--the back of two family photographs, which were smuggled back to his parents.

These are, as Carroll writes, "the first, unfiltered drafts of history." His rich sample testifies to the universal and poignant themes of love and honor, courage and rage, duty and fear and mortality. The playful and heartfelt voices grant us the personal perspective all too often lost in news reports and government statements. Taken together, they remind us that, despite the playful good cheer, the human cost of war is far too high. A remarkable contribution to the understanding of war and its impact, and a powerful tribute to those undone by it. --Lesley Reed

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