Friday, May 9, 2008


I thought I would share a favorite excerpt from one of my "letter" books. I'm fascinated by letters, especially old ones. War letters, love letters, everyday letters, I cherish them all, but war letters, by far, hold a special place in my heart. I have a continually growing collection of "letter" books that I read over and over and I am still touched by their poignancy and depth every time.

I like the fact that you can reach past time and death and get a glimpse of a man's soul from a letter he wrote fifty years ago, when he was still young and unsure. I like the fact that most of the letters in my favorite books were written by ordinary men--men that were brothers and sons, men like the boy down the street--and not by politicians who had all the time in the world to perfect their words. These were battle scarred boys who had never been far from home and were dealing with the harsh realities of war and the enormity of death and dying. These were letters that they scribbled down from a foxhole or bunker, exhausted and soul-weary, but wanting to write home to loved ones just the same.

I like the fact that somehow you can reach down into someones private thoughts and catch a glimpse of their lives--that is so meaningful to me. In this modern world of hustle and bustle with people too busy to sit down and write a real letter, these glimpses have become all the more important.

I always laugh and cry every time I read over my collection again, and there are a special few that send shivers up my spine. There is simply no better way to learn about history--history books are fine in their own right--but I'd rather learn from the men and women who were really there; I'd rather see things through their eyes and be able to feel a little snatch of what they felt when they describe it in their own--sometimes faltering--words.

Somehow, they make me thankful for how truly blessed I really am. Reading their stories, feeling their pain and sadness, joy and fear and uncertainty, somehow lets me feel connected to them in a way that I could never have imagined. It helps me to remember them; to feel that in some small way I am honoring their lives and thanking them for the many things they have done for me--for all of the things I wish I could find the words to say. It makes me proud to be a part of this great country; proud to have "known" such great men.

"This letter is for your reading only; or to others at your discretion; but under no conditions to my Mother," twenty-six-year-old Corporal William "Bicky" Kiessel wrote on November 13. 1943, to a favorite uncle who had fought in World War I. Kiessel had just survived the invasion of Italy, and he thought his uncle would understand what he had been through. "We were the first Americans to hit Europe," Kiessel continued in his hastily typed letter.

"I could go into vivid detail but I've said too much now," Kiessel continued. "You'd better say a little prayer for me." (One can understand why he thought his mother might be less than thrilled to read the letter.) Nine months later, Kiessel, who would ultimately survive the war, was preparing for another invasion--this time into France. The letter he wrote to two college friends right before the assault offers a revealing glimpse into the thoughts and emotions of a young man about to charge into battle.

...We're not yet on the boats. But I know what it will be like. I remember so clearly from the last time; iron folding cots, four tiers high and jammed so close that you can hardly pass in the narrow aisles, especially with your life belt on. Down in the holds its dark and hot and smelly with sweated unwashed bodies. There is the warm sickening stench of food. The boat is so crowded there is always a line eating and the heavy air is mixed with all sorts of odors--none of them pleasant....

The energetic chaplains are busy holding services all hours of the day on the various dock levels. Fellows are trying to catch up on years of neglected religion in a few days. And it can be done--and is! The Catholics have Mass, Communion, and Confessions while the Protestants preach little, pray much, and sing the favorite hymns of the Church. And then there are Jewish services for members of that faith. At all these sacred gatherings there is a sincerity and informality that makes for a better and greater fellowship and gives a deeper sense of the intangible value of friends, home, and the eternal verities of life. Were the world to live in this rare state of grace there would be no wars. In those services we all wish we'd lived better, been more complimentary and less critical, written home more lovingly and more often, etc. We are finally face to face with life; tho reality of it is so tremendous an effort....

I don't pray, nor do I want others, to pray for my safety or return. That is not of prime importance. In life we too often emphasize the wrong things. We don't put first things first. We become satisfied with the good and don't press on to the best values in life. No, safety isn't the ultimate goal. But true examplary conduct is. What is important is that whatever does happen to me I will play my part as a man and do absolutely nothing that will shame my character or my God. To me the supreme words, the finist and highest commendation in the whole wide world is, "Well done thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast fought the good fight, thou hast kept the faith. Enter thou into the kingdom of Heaven."

Sorry if I seem to be getting dramatic. Don't mean to. I fully expect with God's Holy Will that I shall come through. Wanted you to know my reactions preceding this greatest of all invasions. Lets hope and pray that the lives lost will be worth it; as if any price can pay for a life. I want to get home; we all want to go home and though it will mean never for some, for most this will mean a much closer path through time to those whom we love and who love us so dearly.

Must crate the typewriter now. Was lucky to have it this long. Its late in the morning now and most of the fellows are down on the beach. Will join them and have fun and who can tell might start a seeming spontaneous song service. And so I bid you adieu. Christians never say goodbye. Sooner or later we all meet again.

~ Grace Under Fire by Andrew Carroll


crimson said...

Emily.. that is beautiful.....