Letters Home: A Memorial Day Reflection

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Dad handed me an ancient stationery box stuffed with letters a few years ago, written by my granddad on the eve of and during his WWII tour of duty. “Thought you’d get a kick out of this,” he quipped, as he often does whenever he passes down more family artifacts.

He was right about that. Some were addressed to granddaddy’s parents, who survived a few years into my childhood. So I at least knew them, but remember her mainly. Most of them he wrote to his wife, though, my grandmother Earle, with many sentiments for my dad, still a toddler at the time. The salutation in each of them reads, “Dearest Earle.” Their marriage was long-lived, far from perfect, but Granddaddy was civil to the core and kept a calm and steady hand on the tiller: things might have come unglued were it not for this mark of character.

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They’re important relics, taken as a whole a time capsule of a monumentally important chapter in our nation’s history as seen through an individual lens. Most are simple reports about not much of anything, sweet in tone (granddaddy had an imposing stature and baritone voice, but an eternally kind and gentle demeanor) and sometimes even elegant. Some include terrific descriptions of the world, dispatched from wherever he happened to be when he was writing, an accidental globetrotter with so many others of his ilk. The earliest are written on Army Air Force letterhead, others on cheap airmail stationery, a few on distinctive blue paper, penned in Granddaddy’s dramatic sloping hand. A single one is typewritten (its content reveals why); all are well preserved.

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I may be reading more into them than is really there, but I sense anxiety in a very young man (he writes “Dear Mama” in a childishly endearing way), a relatively new dad, headed into the dangerous unknown on the other side of the world—not just worry for his own skin and the young wife and child he left behind—but for the very existence of the free world; a censored letter is a stark reminder of times fraught with peril.

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I get a kick out of these, to be sure, but there is so much more to them than an afternoon’s diversion. I usually think of granddaddy on Memorial Day weekend, and others in my family who served in our armed forces. They left us a profound legacy; we’re all standing on their shoulders, something to remember today and every day.

April 10, 1945

Dear Mama,

Will try to dash off a few lines in answer to your letter. Things have slacked off. Yesterday was the only day have been able to go into Miami, I didn’t have time to stay long. Would like to have gone out to the Beach, but it was too far under the circumstances. It is really crowded on the streets. The Navy seems to predominate.

We are supposed to finish up here about Saturday, I have about 20 more hours of flying to do. Have been doing o.k. and have had little or no criticism from my instructor. The airplanes are pretty big, but they fly like any other, just more gadgets. They estimate the cost of one hours flying in a C-54 to be $1000.00, so my ‘education’ will run into quite a few thousands.

I’ll return to Dallas from here for a few days and judging by pass standards will go to Nashville for crew assignments, in which case I will get about ten days off. However, I can’t say definitely until I get my orders.

****

Got a letter today from Earle (or rather, Frank) telling me what a big birthday he had. They seem to have enjoyed the cake and things very much. Am glad he got over the measles in time. He must have been pretty sick. I sent him a baby turtle from town yesterday, hope it gets there o.k.

****

Hope you and Daddy and all are feeling well. Will let you know if and when I am to get home.

Love,

Franklin

Granddaddy