“Just a line to let you know I have been wounded and am in the hospital in Japan. I was shot [by] a single sniper bullet… I am thankful to be alive.” — “Paul,” a soldier in the Korean War, writing home in February 1951. His two-page letter, which describes in dramatic detail how close he came to dying, was found decades later in a trash can in a Chicago bank.
“War Letters: Lost and Found,” an exhibit opening Veterans Day (Nov. 11) at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, features original letters from the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam that were lost or abandoned and then rediscovered by strangers. The exhibit is a collaborative effort between the National Postal Museum and Andrew Carroll, author and founder of the Legacy Project, which provided the letters.
“‘War Letters’ highlights the power of letters, not only to connect people at a certain point in time but also to provide snapshots of history,” said exhibit curator Lynn Heidelbaugh. “We hope this exhibit raises awareness that extraordinary history is being discarded on a regular basis and encourages people to take an interest in preserving their own letters and documents.”
A companion brochure for the exhibit entitled “Words from the Past: Preserving Your Letters” will provide visitors with easy-to-follow guidelines for organizing and storing letters and other important documents, as well as information on additional preservation resources.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, the museum will host a lecture and book signing by Carroll from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the museum’s Discovery Center. In his lecture “War Uncensored,” Carroll will discuss his harrowing and sometimes humorous adventures while seeking out extraordinary and previously unpublished war letters around the world. On the same day, there will be an “Exploratory Post” program on “War Letters” from 2 to 4 p.m. in the museum’s atrium, where visitors can explore historical war letters, learn the stories of men and women who served in the military, learn Civil War slang, view authentic letters and even write a letter to a soldier. Both programs are free and open to the public; reservations are not required.
“What makes these letters so incredible, along with the history they record, are the stories behind them,” said Carroll. “These letters were found at yard sales, in trash bins, under floorboards in homes being renovated by new owners, and even on the fields of battle. And they all would have been lost forever if some conscientious soul hadn’t ‘rescued’ them.”
“War Letters: Lost and Found” will be on view until Nov. 13, 2006 in the Art of Cards and Letters Gallery of the National Postal Museum.
Andrew Carroll is the editor of “BEHIND THE LINES: Powerful and Revealing American and Foreign War Letters — and One Man’s Search to Find Them” (2005) and the New York Times bestseller “WAR LETTERS” (2002). “WAR LETTERS” was also the basis for the critically acclaimed PBS documentary of the same name. The Legacy Project is a national, all-volunteer effort that seeks out and preserves wartime correspondence before these letters (and now e-mails) are lost forever. Since 1998, Americans have shared with the Legacy Project an estimated 75,000 never-before-seen letters from every conflict in our nation’s history. For more information: www.warletters.com.
The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., in the Old City Post Office Building across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information visit the museum’s Web site at postalmuseum.si.edu.
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