Letters from World War I


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"Missing You - Letters from Wartime," about wartime letters, 1861-2010, expresses the essential connection of mail between military personnel and the families and friends left behind.


Soldier 1: July 24th, 1861.

Dear Mother, I received your letter after our return to camp. Yes, we have been and gone and done it. The rebels opened a very destructive fire upon us. Captain Smith was struck by a round shot and completely cut in two. We kept on to Washington more dead than alive. The last five miles of that march was perfect misery having been on our feet 36 hours.

Soldier 2: My Dear Mother, I have just time to write you a word that I'm in bully condition and have got to enjoying the life much. Today's mail has made up for past injustice and neglect by bringing me five envelopes, four enclosing letters and one, even better, a toothbrush.

Wife 1: Dear Ed, when you get this picture you won't say any more about my getting another chap, for you will see that I have grown so homely that a fellow must be a fool to have anything to say to me.

Wife 2: Dear Husband, we are well and get along first rate. My wood is all saved up and I've got it paid except the two chords of hardwood. I shall be glad when this war is over and you get safely back to us.

Soldier 3: Before you get this you will know how immense the butcher's bill has been. These nearly two weeks have contained all of the fatigue and horror that war can furnish. Your letters are the one pleasure and you know my love. Your affectionate son.

Soldier 1: May 28th, 1918.

Dear Cousin Grace, reached camp last night, about 11:45. Marched to barracks. Received a kitbag. I took out bed ticking and filled with straw. Were fed beef stir and coffee. Turned in.

[bomb explosions]

Soldier 2: This comes to you, Walter, from my headquarters on the front line. Just think. Old Jerri Bosch, but 500 yards from where I am writing. I'm in a cellar.

Soldier 3: Dear Mother, the knitted socks arrived okay. As to eats, doughnuts got too dry on route. Cookies are fine, but a bit crumbly. Best thing is the chocolate.

Soldier 4: I am the last officer that is left, of five. It is an odd feeling to watch them go, one by one. Until you are the last. My recommendation is in, and, and I will be promoted if I live. With my best, Ken.

Soldier 1: June, 1944. Our outfit was the first to hit France. The flight over was strange. The plane was dark except when someone lit a cigarette. And you could take a quick glance at white, drawn faces. Then there was the door. All of a sudden the night came alive with flashes and streaks of light.

Soldier 2: One really lives for letters from home out here. It's hard to express but mail gives me just that much greater desire to come back from each skirmish with the enemy. That was a truly wonderful letter.

Wife 1: When the letter came, I was fixing lunch for the children. Hurried to the mailbox and tore open the envelope. I ran down the garden to the fruit tree, shouting for your mother, and she looked up and I said, "A letter from Bob, written the 3rd!" And we embraced. Later I read it again.

Wife 2: Darling, I must admit, I'm not exactly the same girl you left. I'm twice as independent and I shall definitely have to work all my life. Do you think you'll be able to bear living with me? I don't doubt that many a night...

Mother: My dear Joe, we saw in the papers that your division is attacking Iwo Jima.

Soldier 3: We who hit the beach and lived were guided by the hands of God. I said your special prayer, Mom, each day and night. So I'm certain your prayers were responsible for my safety.

Mother: I have prayed constantly that you will emerge unharmed. God love you and be with you every minute. Goodnight, my little Joey.

Wife 1: November, 1951.

My darling husband, I knew in my heart that you soon would be called for duty in Korea. Don't be afraid, because I'll be with you every single minute. If something should happen to either one of us, the other will always have the wonderful memories. And don't worry about me.

Soldier 1: A grenade landed right next to me. But it was a dud. I got within five feet of him. When he started to throw another, I shot him straight through the head. I'm sorry I had to take a human life, but it was him, or me.

Soldier 1: Tuy Hoa. 7th February, 1966.

Dear Mom, I know you must be worried to death from not hearing from me. I got into it pretty heavy a few days ago, and it was a miracle that I'm alive.

Soldier 2: I'm a door gunner strapped in the side door of a chopper with an M-16 machine gun chained in front of it. We fly at treetop level and look for the Viet Cong. I'm getting another sixty-five dollars a month hazardous duty pay. This is the most exciting thing I've ever done!

Soldier 3: Don't forget to send me a few of those pictures when they are taken. I don't know if I told you my last letter, but I'm an uncle.

Soldier 4: I'd kind of like to hear Elena's voice again. Uh, guess I'm kind of anxious to get you to tape from home. I imagine she's grown so much I probably recognize her hardly on R&R. 'Cause every picture you've sent it seems like she's changed so much.

Soldier 5: Every step you take is into the unknown. The thought ever-present in your mind. Will I return?

Wife 1: February, 1991.

Saturday night is when I heard that the ground war in the Gulf had started. It just made my heart sink. I didn't realize I was so upset.

Wife 2: And I hope all of you come home safely. Soon.

Daughter: Please come home soon. 'Cause I really miss you. It's not really the same here. And I hope this cheers you up and whoever else is listening.

Wife 3: I never thought that heartache was really your heart aching for someone. I miss you. I love you so much. I don't mean to keep saying it, but I want you to come home. Forever yours.

Soldier 1: Dear Mom,

We are leaving for Bahgram to flesh out 600 Taliban soldiers from the mountains. This is the biggest battle of the war on terrorism. It's hard to see all the guys who were shot or wounded and to know you're going right back in there.

Wife 1: Every morning for a month I woke up and the first thing I did was go to CNN.com and go to the casualties list. I was so scared.

Soldier 2: I'm sitting in my little hole trying to relax. When a large jet takes off, the ground shakes and dust reigns from the ceiling. One thing's for sure, the majority of the time spent here is in incredible boredom interspersed with brief periods of sheer terror.

Soldier 3: Hey little bud! Now you make sure you're being a good boy and helping Mommy while I'm gone. I love you so much, man. Hey next time I call try to think of another one of your funny jokes to tell me, ok?

Wife 2: There's a hole in me when you're not near. I need to sleep now, but I'll see you in my dreams.

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Image: French postcard, April 20, 1918
Bravo, comrade, under the protection of your flag, we will win the Victory!"

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Image: American postcard, December 3, 1917

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Image: Miss Irene Donnelly’s letter
Center for American War Letters Archives, Leatherby Libraries, Chapman University, CA

My Fellow Soldiers