The last letter
The book I made out of my parents’ letters back and forth during World War II was a big hit with my siblings. Each of them got a bound, hardcover copy of the book. Most of them browsed through looking for interesting details that popped off the page, or picked out letters written around the time of big events in the war. I also pointed out some of the best stuff to them — such as the letter in which Eddie (my Dad) proposed to Lucille (my Mom) on her 23rd birthday in 1944. (From England, he coordinated with his oldest sister Annie in Kansas City to shop for a ring and make sure it was delivered to Lucille’s home the same day.)
Anyway, my sister-in-law Sue was the most voracious reader of the 560-page book. She attacked it as if it were the Oprah Winfrey book-of-the-month selection. She sat down with it and started from the beginning and kept reading the letters in chronological order, hour after hour. But a couple weeks ago she confessed to me that she had quit reading about 60 pages from the end because she couldn’t bear the idea of the story coming to an end.
Here’s the thing, though. The letters do eventually stop going back and forth but the story never really does come to an end — at least not within the covers of the book. The last letter in the collection was written from Eddie to Lucille on Oct. 18, 1945. He was just sitting around in Frankfurt, Germany, waiting for his final orders to be shipped back home to the U.S. That word would come through on a moment’s notice, and he’d be out the door for a journey home that would take a month or more aboard a repurposed cargo ship. So he didn’t know as he wrote this letter that it would be his last. There is no big drama or summing up here. But as I typed this letter into the computer back in 2007, it was a poignant moment for me because I knew it was the last letter and that my perfect little listening post on my parents’ world from 1941 to 1945 was shutting down too.
The rest of the love story would be up to Eddie and Lucille to tell over the next six decades — in person, not by mail.
POSTMARK: OCTOBER 19, 1945, U.S. ARMY POSTAL SERVICE.
TO: Miss Lucille Smith, 902 North Liberty, Independence, Missouri
Frankfurt, 18 Oct 1945
Since I have a bit of spare time I may as well dash off a few lines to you to keep you posted on the latest dope from over here. I don’t know much in addition to what I have already written you. Am still figuring on leaving here about the 8th. So I am keeping my fingers crossed until that day comes. It seems that the rate of redeployment of troops back to the U.S. will be a bit slower now due to shipping, et cetera. Still if I leave here on the 8th I should be home in approximately a month with good luck.
Today Duncan and myself were awarded the Bronze Star. They took some pictures and if I leave before they are developed I will have them sent along to me later. The medal is rather pretty. It is a five pointed star made of bronze and it has my name engraved in the back of it. I also got a ribbon to wear on my chest and a small pin which is a duplicate of the ribbon which is for civilian clothes. That is the one I want to wear the most of all. It is a very nice decoration and will be something I will show our kids whenever I want to cite myself as being an example of how one should behave. What do you think of that? Can’t you just picture me giving a lecture to our son like this – “That is the way we did it in the Army in the European Theater” – How about that?
Well I suppose I have written enough for this time my sweet. My mind just doesn’t seem to operate very well these days with the thoughts of you and home so predominant. I suppose it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to write too much because then I would have nothing to tell you when we are together in person. I know you will get tired of my stories pretty quickly, however.
I haven’t received any mail since I last wrote you. I know how you must feel too because it seems all the time now is sort of a void and will be so until I see you and hold you in my arms once more. This place around here is getting more sad every day. I sure am getting tired of telling everyone goodbye. Each day some one of my old buddies comes up and shakes my hand and tells me he will be leaving very soon for the U.S. I sure do hate to see them all go too but know that the sooner we all get home the better for everyone concerned. Still some very good friendships have been formed and when we get ready to part company then is when we really realize it the most. Of course such is life and we must expect that sort of thing.
I suppose I have raved on enough for this time. I should get back to work now for a change I have been sort of resting on my laurels now and taking it very easy – you know me and my failing health. Well sweet, bye for now and hope to see you soon.
‘Nite, my darling.
I love you