Throughout my childhood, November 11 was called Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month – the war to end all wars. Then came World War II and somewhere along the line the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor the veterans of all wars.
There were many veterans in my family during World War II. Three of my uncles served for the entire duration of the war. The first uncle, Frank, was drafted before Pearl Harbor, just months after he had married a young girl who had to wait for 4 years before they could resume their married life. Frank sent great letters home to everyone, including me. My mother thought he made my letters especially history/geography related, assuming I’d be taking them to school and he was right. Almost every day, someone brought a letter from some distant war zone to share with the class.
One letter from December 20, 1943, tells about a nine-day leave he had just completed in London. He wrote, “I saw some good shows while I was there and ate at some of the most famous places, rode the subway and two-deck buses all over, and set my watch by Big Ben. I had a good look all over the city and London was really blown up during the blitz.”
In a letter to my father dated May 29, 1942, he tells about a radio they were able to get to listen to news from home. “The Lieutenant got us a radio the other day – an Echophone Commercial – it is made in Illinois and it’s a pretty good set. It has 3 wave bands. It’s an amateur outfit something like a Sky Buddy. It has a B.F.O. and a jack for head phones if you want to use them. It also has a band spread. It only cost us about $32 American and that also included one of those long fish pole aerials, too. We get the U.S. just as clear as if we were at home. “
Frank was a big guy, rather fair-haired with a loud voice and a hearty laugh. He told a lot of jokes and funny stories, all of them punctuated regularly by his laugh. In another letter to my father , Frank writes, “I am still getting close to the good earth. I have holes dug all over to hide in and I can sure as hell use them sometimes even if it’s only to keep away from work – ha ha.”
Frank was part of Patton’s Third Army through the Battle of the Bulge. He sent home these pictures captioned “Pagny (Moselle) France” and “Taken at Metz”.
My uncle Phil followed his brother into the service and served his time with the Merchant Marines.
Phil didn’t write as often, but we do have a couple of letters from his training days in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Phil wrote in 1942, “Well, I guess you still feel the after effects of Thanksgiving, eh? Did you have turkey? We did but I didn’t enjoy it at all. Some of the fellows here didn’t get any turkey at all. The cooks thought they had plenty and the ones that got there first sure got plenty.” And, “By the time I get out of here the damn war will be over. But I can tell people I was in the Merchant Marines in St. Petersburg, Fla. Ha! Ha!”
It turned out that he did get out of Florida and saw action throughout the remainder of the war.
The third uncle to leave, Mike, was in the Air Force, was shot down over Germany, spent about a year in a German prison camp, and eventually escaped. He served for the remainder of the war and after coming home, became an FBI agent.
Among the letters home, I also have a letter from their mother to my parents. I had been with Grandma many times when she went to the big rural mailbox, hoping for word from one of her sons, only to find it empty. In her letter of February 4, 1942, she’s concerned about not hearing from Frank. “I am so worried about Frank, I don’t know what to do. I have cried all day. I could just scream as loud as can be. We don’t know where he will be. I had my picture and a prayer book for him but now I have to wait until I hear from him. I sent him some homemade doughnuts and an angel food cake. He said he wouldn’t leave until Monday and here he left on Saturday.”
“Frank sent me a fine pillow top and it has Camp Walters, Texas, on it in big letters and a flag and red roses and a mother reading on it. It made me cry as I am so blue about him. If I only knew he would be safe.
I will close and say goodnight. It is 10:30 PM and it sure is raining up here – a good time for the blues.”
All three sons survived the war and came home to raise families, take up careers and eventually retire. These three veterans are all gone now, as are most of the World War II men after over 60 years, but on this Veterans Day, it’s good to remember them and the ones they left behind.