The weeks and months leading up to my dad’s death were very difficult and fatiguing. No one could have told me anything that would have prepared me for the unspeakable heartache of watching someone you love die, particularly when he was so certain God had “one more miracle” in store. I was 44 years old when I said “Goodbye, I love you” to Dad for the last time. We had spoken those words each time we parted and at the end of every phone call for as long as I can remember. “Love you” was a sentiment expressed often and easily in my family. Dad would then add his trademark “Have a good day and a great life,” a wish he imparted to anyone with whom he spoke, friend or stranger. My dad appreciated and embraced life unlike anyone I have ever known. He simply did not have idle days. He was a charismatic speaker, and deeply loved his faith, his family, and his country. He had a tremendous business mind, boundless energy, and great courage when it came to living. If someone had asked me, “Did you know your father well?” I would have thought it a ridiculous question and replied simply, “Of course I did, he was my dad, and I was his daughter.” Little did I know that one year later I would answer that question very differently.
On Friday, May 26th, 2006, one month and one day following Dad’s death, I sat alone on a Memorial Day weekend in my parents’ home in Saginaw, Michigan. I had been traveling weekly for work since Dad died, trying to do the “right and responsible” thing each day, but pretty much going through the motions. I recognized the need to find the right place and time to allow my grief to surface. This would prove to be it, and my Dad’s infamous army trunk would begin the journey.
The trunk had resided in our family home for my entire lifetime plus some 16 years before. Although at various times one of us would offer to go through it with him, Dad would usually take a deep breath and simply say “maybe someday.” We never pushed, he never invited, and the trunk contents remained a mystery to us while my dad was alive.
It was 11:30 p.m. when I opened the trunk, my breathing slightly labored, altered by adrenaline and anticipation. I will never forget the musty scent that seeped into the room as I raised the lid. As my eyes surveyed what was immediately visible, I found myself not wanting to disrupt the manner in which he had so carefully placed things, these items visited only by him over the course of 60 years. Sensing a direct correlation between exhausting the contents of the trunk, and finally accepting he was really gone, I was tentative. The contents were the only new chapter that remained. Once explored, there would be nothing left to learn about this man. No new insights, no more fatherly words of wisdom, no new memories. My lifetime with him was soon to be finite. I don’t recall ever experiencing so many conflicting emotions at one time…love, admiration, curiosity, sadness, regret. This thing called Life.
No matter what age you are, you are never ready to lose a parent. Little did I know, and with detail I could never have imagined, I was about to meet my father all over again.
I gently removed the items that lay in the top tray of the trunk. They included the insignia of the 102d Infantry Division, a German Luger and daggers, an army issue field shaving kit, a program from a Mass celebrated in a war-torn foreign land, another from a USO concert, and a photo album containing more than 250 black and white pictures forever capturing the images he witnessed in his years as a soldier of WWII.
As I sat at the foot of my dad’s empty chair, time seemed to have stopped. Each item was fascinating and suggested its own story. Stories not only of Dad in his starry-eyed youth, decades and decades earlier, but of a world history that I had not remotely begun to understand or fully appreciate. Surely there was a multitude of stories that accompanied each keepsake. Since his chair now sat empty, I could literally only imagine.
I emptied and gently removed the top tray. For a moment, I sat motionless. It wasn’t possible to fully comprehend the emotional and historical value of what lay before me. Placed neatly, nestled in row after row, were nearly 30 bundles of letters. Each bundle was carefully tied with fragile and tattered old ribbon, each letter in its original, hand-addressed envelope, and all postmarked between November 1942 and December 1945. All were addressed to Dad’s parents, his sisters, Alice Adele, Sister Mary Robert Irish-Religious Sister of Mercy, his twin sister Faith, his youngest sister Joyce, or to his sweetheart who would later become my mother, Elaine Marie Corbat. In the top left corner of each was the signature of the sender, my father, Aarol W. “Bud” Irish. Here, preserved for over six decades, were this young soldier’s nearly 1,000 letters home. From his first day at Fort Custer, to his last aboard the “Norway Victory,” on which he sailed home from Europe 38 months later, this was a moving, transforming, fully documented end-to-end account of WWII as told through the eyes, heart, and words of one man.
And so began the “journey of the letters.” I never went to bed that night. In the end, it would be 13 months from the time I opened and read the first fragile and yellowed pages, to the very last written more than three years later. That first weekend I attended a Memorial Day service with my mom. I saw the veterans who were present, and the American flag blowing in the wind, through completely different eyes. Forever I would have a deeper reverence for each.
Suddenly I was a spectator, peering in the window on my parents’ courtship. Witness to a love that transcended time, distance, heartache, and a war that would change the future of millions of people, entire nations, and ultimately the world. Once I’d finished reading the letters, my feelings of loss were heightened. Not only had I lost an ever-present, strong and vibrant dad in his twilight years, but now, too, I felt the absence of this starry-eyed young boy I’d come to know and love. A young man who had his whole life ahead of him, sustained in heartbreak and despair by an unwavering faith in God and a belief in true love. Both would serve as his constant companions.
Aarol William Irish was born on January 11, 1922, to Damon Lou and Alice Virginia (Reid) Irish. The third of five children raised on a dairy farm in Hemlock, Michigan, he was born only minutes before his twin sister, Faith. He was an optimist with a gift for words. He attributed his optimism to his mother who he once wrote was “always full of encouragement in good times and bad.” That attitude would be prevalent throughout his life. In late 1940, Bud met Elaine Marie Corbat at a dance hall social. Elaine was six months his junior and lived a few miles to the west in Ryan, Michigan. She was the eldest of the six children of Joseph and Alma (Tighe) Corbat. Dad would recall it as being love at first sight. Their first date was on December 18, 1940, when he accompanied her to the movie “Down Argentine Way”. Just shy of two years later, he placed an engagement ring on her finger, put the accompanying wedding band and his life savings in a vault at the local bank, and enlisted in the army as Private First Class Aarol W. Irish. Little did they know the years that would pass or the burdens they would encounter before he would finally take her hand in marriage.
Dad had a great love for music and was performing publicly by age 11. Whether at home on Christmas Eve, around a bonfire at our cottage in mid-Michigan, watching the sun slowly dissipate into his beloved Gulf of Mexico, or visiting a retirement home on a Sunday afternoon to accompany the residents down a melancholy lane of musical memories, he loved to play his 12-string guitar. His amazing ability to recall every verse of a song would almost lead you to believe God had given him a separate compartment in his mind for music. Every song started with a story of its association to a time and place in his life. Once he began playing, no matter what the setting, he could have total strangers singing in unison. Dad sang the melody, Mom the harmony, and music would become a staple in our family. It had a profound place in Dad’s life, literally to his very last breath.
Dad was 20 years old when he penned his first letter as a soldier of World War II. He would be assigned to the 102d Mechanized Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, an advance scouting team responsible for locating and reporting enemy activity. Although he could have exercised the “only son” deferment, which would have allowed him to remain home and farm, he volunteered ahead of the draft. He felt a sense of obligation to his country, and a desire to advance himself with the training and experience the military would provide. He saw life as an opportunity, not an entitlement. He would serve his country and begin building a foundation for his future, providing God brought him safely home. He left as a boy, and after years of forced maturation brought on by the atrocities of war, he came home a man.
In a time of heartache as we were learning to live without him, he would once again speak words that would instill confidence, reinforce the importance of family, integrity, character, and honor, and encourage responsible choices in life. He would remind us the world is filled with possibilities. Through these letters he would reaffirm that you can’t choose the cards you’re given, but you can certainly decide how you’re going to play them.
This book is comprised of selections from Dad’s original handwritten letters, placed into historical context with excerpts from the book “102d thru Germany” (published by the division’s Public Relations Office in 1945), as well as other sources. What a gift and legacy my family has been given in these letters. It is my privilege to share them with you on behalf of, and in memory of, my father.
And so it begins – the journey of “A Thousand Letters Home” and this young soldier’s story of war, love and life.
December 3, 1942
“Just as we left the PX at Custer for our new journey, the jukebox was playing ‘White Christmas’. It really sounded pretty as a farewell song and I was wondering whether or not I’d see snow at Christmas. I still don’t know…With the exception of missing you, the folks and all the other friends, the Army’s not bad at all and we don’t really have time to get lonesome.” − written to Bud’s girlfriend and eventual wife of 60 years, Elaine M. Corbat, from his basic training post at Camp Maxey, Texas
December 12, 1942
“I’m saving all of your letters. I don’t know what to do when I get a locker full. Do you suppose you could keep them for me when I get 20 or 25 if I wrap them carefully in a package and send them to you? I’d like to keep every one and you do the same then we’ll pull them out and read them over every so often for the next 50 years, okay?” – written to Elaine from Camp Maxey, Texas
December 16, 1942
“The Chaplain here is about 45 and very nice. The sermon was the most beautiful I ever heard. You could have heard a pin drop in that church that was filled with soldiers. Men of all ages were sniffling and blowing their nose, and you could see an occasional tear fall. I can’t start to explain what it was about, with the exception of telling of how a soldier had to bear the being away from home. When on these long marches he said just to recall Our Lord carrying the cross and struggling along when He felt like dropping…When that sermon was through I’m sure every fellow there was just longing for home, and yet he was ready to take anything ‘til the time would come when this war was over and he could return. He emphasized taking everything in the best possible way and for each man to try to make himself outstanding…” – written to Elaine from Camp Maxey, Texas
March 23, 1943
“Did you see the moon come up last nite? I’m hoping you did and were gazing at it as I was. It was about as beautiful as I ever saw. It was a deep orange color and just seemed to blend into the dark sky. I told Corporal Clay it was sure too bad that a moon like that was going to waste for so many fellows and their sweethearts just because a few big fellows were greedy for power or land, but I guess it just has to be that way. The way the war looks now we’re going to have a long time of waiting, Honey, but it will be well worth it. If praying helps any, the time sure ought to shorten up some.” – written to Elaine from Camp Maxey, Texas
March 24, 1943
“Even if times are hard when this war is over we’ll get along somehow…just yesterday one of the corporals told me if I spent as much time studying and thinking of army life as I do sitting around thinking and writing to my girl that I’d be a lieutenant in no time. Well, Honey, if I had to forget you to make ratings I hope I never make any ‘cause I wouldn’t trade you for a general’s position. Before I came to the army I thought I’d just put all I had into getting ratings, but now I find that instead of studying at nite I’d much rather write to you. That makes me happier than anything else I can do.” – written to Elaine from Camp Maxey, Texas
April 5, 1943
“I just noticed I’ve written over two sheets of paper full and it hasn’t taken only about an hour. I must be in a writing mood or something but thoughts just seem to roll out tonite…I love you, Sweetheart, and always will no matter what may happen. There’ll never be anyone who could ever take your place no matter how far away I may be or how long I have to wait. No matter how tough it may get, Honey, as long as I have you I’ll be coming back so don’t worry any. It’s times like this last week when I feel more lonesome than usual that it helps me so to take out your picture and just say in my mind what I would say to you….Goodnite, Sweetheart. I’ll be thinking, dreaming and praying of you and for you. Please do the same for me.” – written to Elaine from Camp Maxey, Texas
July 17, 1943
“The sun is still above the tree tops, but there is a cool breeze blowing and it sure would be a swell evening to spend together. There’s one thing we’re sure of though and that is that when this war is over and I get back home there will still be other beautiful evenings and we’ll sure do our best to make up for the lost time. Remember how so many nites back home we’d stop somewhere and watch the sun go down and the moon come up and then sit there for hours afterward though they always went far too fast? I’m just going to sit here now and listen to the Hit Parade…‘You’ll Never Know’ will always be one of my top favorite songs…I love you with all my heart and soul and want to thank you again for giving me so much to fight for and look forward to.” – written to Elaine from Camp Maxey, Texas
September 23, 1943
“I’ll bet there’ll be plenty of happy people when the boys come home but none any happier than me. The moon and stars were shining bright this morn between 4:00 and 6:00 when I was on guard. I sat thinking over all the good times we’d had together…It seems like every day some little occasion or times we had together comes back in a mental picture. I used to get lonesome back in camp but it seems I miss you so much more now. Maybe it’s ‘cause we’re out in the open where you look up any time when the sky's clear at nite and see stars shining or the moon getting low and it brings back all those memories. Honey, I love you more than I could ever say. My every work I offer up as a prayer that soon I’ll be coming home to you and we can be happily united never to part. We don’t know how much longer it will be, but keep praying and always remember that I’ll be faithful forever and that I’ll be coming back to you when this war is over.” – written to Elaine from Louisiana field maneuvers
October 10, 1943
“Just keep praying that if it’s God’s will I’ll be seeing you. I still feel confident that even if I go across, which is probable, I’ll be coming back to you safe and sound. God has been awful good to me and I’ve done my best to be faithful to Him so I’m not worried whatsoever. I love you with all my heart and soul and will always love you. We’re pulling out in a few minutes. I probably won’t get any mail for about six days now and won’t have time to write. If I do I’ll sure be writing you a letter.” – written to Elaine from Louisiana field maneuvers
December 11, 1943
“One year certainly has dragged along slow. Though we haven't been able to see each other often I love you more than ever, or should I say, “as much as ever” ‘cause it isn't possible for me to love you more than I do. This past year of waiting certainly has proved to both of us how much we really love each other. If we didn't know it before and if ever I had any doubt in my mind when I came to the army that you'd get tired of waiting, it certainly isn't there now. I hope someday I'll be able to pay you back for being so faithful and for all the courage your love and letters have given me. Tonite finds me in one of those sentimental moods and I feel as though I could sit and write to you forever.” – written to Elaine from Camp Swift, Texas
May 10, 1944
“We had a proficiency test today…It was so tough that everybody was dead tired when it finished but not a man dropped out…Up ‘til about an hour ago we’ve all been in the mess hall singing our heads off. We had a swell time singing and also being proud of each other for the good showing each made. There's something about it that goes right in and touches a fellow's heart and makes him proud he's got such buddies to go along with him if the time comes. The officers right with the men, and boy, it's things like that that will make a fellow give all he's got to make a success of anything no matter how tired he is.” – written to Bud’s parents from Camp Swift, Texas
June 14, 1944
“We’ll hope and pray all of us fellows will be back in another year. The war news sounds good, but it’s going to be some tough going yet. Maybe it will be a lot better world after it’s all over and everyone will appreciate more how much God has given them.” – written to Elaine’s dad from Camp Swift, Texas
June 24, 1944
“This letter will be a last remembrance of Camp Swift as it’s the last I’ll be writing from here. When you get this I’ll be almost to our new camp…By this time tomorrow nite Camp Swift will be only a memory and possibly a place we’ll visit on a trip with our kids someday…We’re all out of the barracks and sleeping outside tonite waiting for tomorrow. The sky is dotted with stars and there’s a pale quarter moon shining…As I always said, the waiting is tough lots of times, but Honey, it’s going to be worth it that day when we answer “I do” and look ahead to all our happy years to come…It so happens Ray Noble and his orchestra are just playing “Goodnite Wherever You Are”. Sweetheart, I love you with all my heart and send all my kisses, hugs and love to the sweetest, finest, and most faithful girl a fellow could ever even dream of having. May God bless us all and may it be His will that soon we will be together never to part...P.S. Just read over my letter and in places it almost sounds like I’m talking to you in person, but honey, this is the next best thing. I’m almost positive you’re writing tonite and I think this will be a nite long remembered by me. I don’t know why, but I really feel more lonesome than I have for a long time. I am looking forward to being closer to you and home.” – written to Elaine from Camp Swift, Texas
August 23, 1944
“If somebody hadn’t started arming the U.S. and drafting soldiers when they did all I can say is that God would be the only one to save us today and that would probably be without our help. It’s plain to see now that Germany and Japan were well set to keep rolling all the way if someone hadn’t stopped them. Well, they’re stopped now and will keep sinking from now on.” – written to Bud’s parents from Fort Dix, New Jersey shortly before leaving for Europe
October 2, 1944
“…I can’t mention the name of the city I saw at the present time, but I can tell you a little about it. In places the houses were pulverized to dust and great steel framed factories and buildings were nothing but masses of twisted waste. Parts of the city and even small towns were left untouched, but on roads where the Germans put up a fight and withdrew slowly, there was nothing but a path of destruction. A person can’t realize the damage done by war ‘til he sees it in person…I've seen hundreds of French people now and they seem to welcome the Americans, but pay little attention to the constant travel of army vehicles. I imagine the continuous movement of Germans and then American soldiers since 1939 has made them quite used to warfare and traffic. They make their way along the main highway as bravely as if they were riding in behind the protecting steel of 30 ton tanks instead of walking and riding on their bicycles. I imagine they look at the wreckage and ruin and think back to beautiful homes and the peace they once had. It's too bad some of the people back in the states couldn't see it and maybe they'd realize how lucky they really are. There's many a fellow over in this country tonite who would give everything they had to be back home tonite.” – written to Elaine from France
October 10, 1944
“Suppose you think I’ve been forgetting about you since I haven’t written for so long, but this isn’t such a good place to write. We try to get a little sleep in the daytime by taking turns lying down…It’s been pretty cool here and my hands get a little cold when I write too long. We’ve been in this foxhole for several days now, and Honey, don’t think I haven’t thought of you for hours at nite and during the day.” – written to Elaine from Germany
October 19, 1944
“We used to be a little careless in practice with mines back in the states, but believe me it doesn't take long to get over that idea here when you know one mistake or slip is all it takes to let 10 or 12 pounds of TNT go to work on you. The Germans sure believed in using plenty of mines, but the good old U.S. has gone a long ways in studying the subject and making better means, methods and instruments for getting them out of the way and locating them. We used to read in the newspapers about the great number of casualties caused by German mines, but I can assure you it's a mighty low average now. We still haven't got our galoshes and don't know just when we will, but we need them about the worst of anything right now.” – written to Bud’s parents from France
October 27, 1944
“France was much harder hit by the war with some cities practically demolished but you can hardly tell war even hit Belgium. The people of France were much more enthusiastic at seeing us when we got nearer Paris and up this way, but in Belgium, they waved, threw us apples, pears, and grapes and gave us a welcome that let you know they really appreciated seeing us come. We talked to a woman in the city of Liege, Belgium. She said it was a wonderful day when they saw the Americans come. You could tell they really meant it ‘cause there've been plenty of soldiers before us and if you could only see the welcome we got it would explain it. I don't know when my morale was as high as when we saw the way the people felt toward us…There was a time not many months ago when we wondered whether we would ever make use of our combat training. Believe me, we don't wonder any more. We used to take guard back in the states as a bother, but up here you don't have to coax anyone to stay awake or be on the alert. All they'd have to say is "dig a foxhole" and there would be a fast move to see who got hold of a shovel first.” – written to Bud’s parents from Holland
November 3, 1944
“We get the news at 10:00 each morning from London over our shortwave radios. At 10:15 they call in New York for the news and it sure sounds good to hear that ‘Come in, America’ when they're calling. The war news sounds pretty good, especially from the report of the air battle over Germany when our planes knocked down 185 of theirs. You can really tell here that we have far greater superiority over the Germans than we think because our planes are roaring over the lines day and nite. I've only heard two German planes overhead since we moved up here. We've seen a few robot bombs go off across the sky but it would take an awful lot of them to do anywhere as much damage as our planes. When they start peddling their bombs on Germany at nite the skies light up with flashes like lightning. It sure makes a fellow feel glad they're on our side when you hear that continuous roar of engines high overhead. America sure can take a lot of credit for the way the tide has turned on Germany.” – written to Bud’s parents from Holland
November 5, 1944
“Well, here is a letter you’ve probably been looking for as it’s my first written inside ‘der Fuehrer’s’ country. May it not be his much longer. By the calm that lays over the villages and fields, with the exception of a little mortar and artillery fire, one would hardly realize that only a few hundred yards in front of us the enemy was facing us with waiting guns while our guns are trained towards him. But as soon as darkness falls again, every nerve tightens and things begin popping.” – written to Bud’s parents from Germany
November 14, 1944
“I took a little trip into Germany yesterday in my jeep. In a certain city there were a few civilians left, but they didn't smile and you could almost see the hate for you in their faces. You just can't trust any of them and the German towns are really taking a beating. If it means an extra six months here to do a good job this time so the boys won't have to come back in another 20 years, then I'm all for it.” – written to Bud’s parents from Holland
November 26, 1944
“Another nite has arrived and here in Germany it’s a beautiful moonlit nite. Just the kind of night our planes need to bring Germany nearer to defeat. This morning I went to Mass, Confession, and Communion for the first time in several weeks. As we knelt there in the room of a partially wrecked building our planes were roaring overhead to bomb deeper into Germany. It makes a fellow stop to think how lucky he’s been and wonder how much longer it will be before he’ll be home with his loved ones again. One thing that helps a fellow feel good is to know that the folks at home are safe and their homes and cities aren’t a mass of destruction such as is here in Germany. They’re paying and paying dearly for their four years of tyranny, but each day brings victory nearer to us. There’s no doubt about it that it’s at a high cost in men for each side.” − written to Bud’s parents from Germany
December 10, 1944
“There's always something about going to church that makes me think of home more than anything else I do. It seems that in church the men and officers are together more than anywhere else. As we knelt there in that little room where they were having Mass, I looked around at the fellows there and decided that church is about the only place in the army where rank makes no difference whatsoever. There were privates, non-coms, and officers ranging from Lieutenants to a Brigadier General... Dad, I could tell by your letter tonite that you all worry quite a bit about my safety. I guess there's no use to tell you not to ‘cause you just naturally do…I still feel confident that I'll be coming home safe when this war is over, but in case anything does ever happen to me, don't worry ‘cause I'm ready to go whenever my time comes.” − written to Bud’s family from Germany
December 15, 1944
“Another day nearer to victory, but I sure would like to know just exactly how many more days we’re going to have to say that. It’s been over three years now and I often wonder just how much longer it will be before we have both the Germans and Japanese licked…Four years ago next Monday nite on December 18th, Elaine and I had our first date together…Elaine writes quite often but I often wonder how a girl feels about waiting so long for a fellow who is so far away. It’s not hard for we fellows ‘cause there’s no one to change our minds and she’s the only one I’ve ever loved, I knew it from the first time I saw her. However, it must be pretty hard for a girl to see others going out on dates to shows and dances and she not go. I’d give a thousand dollars if this war would only get over so I could come home and millions of fellows feel the same way.” − written to Bud’s family from Germany
December 17, 1944
“As we sit here tonite, we're wondering just how much longer the Germans can hold out at the rate the fighting is going. Yesterday must have been the start of what may be Germany's final stand ‘cause they sure seem to be putting out everything they have. They had a few planes over all nite last nite and air raid sirens were going nearly every hour back behind us toward Holland. Just before I started this letter, they came over again and you should have seen the display of fireworks. Tracer bullets and flak were bursting all around and searchlights were cutting the clouds, then a German plane lit up in a blaze and went crashing earthward. Germany will probably do everything in their power now ‘cause they've got their backs to the wall and it's either fight or surrender.” − written to Bud’s parents from Germany
December 27, 1944
“Well, folks, Christmas Eve and Day were spent, as were several days before, in a foxhole on the banks of the Roer River…The ground was white with frost and off in the distance the Germans had a loudspeaker playing Christmas carols and putting out propaganda...At 12:00 a church bell was ringing deeper into Germany and our mortars were throwing a few shells across the river, then another church bell rang…it’s funny how people could be ringing church bells and maybe talking about the spirit of Christmas when if they would only surrender or hadn’t started this war, millions of people would be celebrating Christmas in the right way. Here we are, Germans and Americans, facing each other across a little river thinking of “peace on earth” and just watching in tense silence for an enemy to move so we could riddle each other with bullets. At 4:30 Christmas morn everything was so quiet with the exception of a few shells our artillery was sending over and my thoughts turned to home…The choir would be starting to sing Christmas carols before midnite Mass and you folks would be in church or on the way there…Christmas Day we took turns scrambling out of our foxholes up to an old building in the town behind us where we had Christmas dinner. It seems Uncle Sam can’t pick the place we eat but he always sees to it that we have a good holiday dinner.” – written to Bud’s family from Germany
January 14, 1945
“We cleaned up this basement, got a couple of good beds, a little stove and plenty of coal out of some of the wrecked houses around here. We have our own little palace free from all worry for 48 hours. The foxholes are but a few hundred feet from where we sit here comfortable, but we need not worry for manning the guns to protect us are our buddies who will do their job well and whom we can trust. Tomorrow nite we'll change places with them again and they can clean up, write letters and be at ease because they know we're out there. Yes, Mom, as you often write in your letters, faith in our fellow men is a great thing and there are millions of them fighting over here…I haven't been to church for over a month as there hasn't been a Catholic Chaplain around…Maybe several days go by and you might mutter a few prayers now and then, but nobody has to beg you to pray when you hear the shells whistle. First thing you do is take cover, and then whisper under your breath for them to keep right on moving away from you.” – written to Bud’s mom from Germany
March 5, 1945
“We had a job for a while making civilians stay off the streets. They wouldn’t believe what German soldiers had done to other countries, and they had been told by Hitler and his hirelings that when we came we would murder them and loot and destroy their homes…There’s no doubt but what there are plenty of German soldiers in these cities who pulled off their uniform and are wearing civilian clothes, but they can do little harm because the backbone and criminal leaders of their army are dead, captured or across the Rhine. It’s too bad the people of Germany that have not yet been freed from Hitler’s rule wouldn’t rise up against him, but he certainly did give them a snow job. I suppose you often wonder if this shooting, killing, etc. is making us hard hearted. Well, we’ll be hard hearted ‘til our job is done but there’s not a fellow in this army, no matter how many Germans he has killed, who won’t be glad to go home, put his arms around his mother, dad, sweetheart or wife, and try to forget what happened and live a life of peace and happiness. We’ve been away so long now that we’re getting used to it, but we’re lonesome for home and when the Germans surrender we’ll be the happiest fellows in the world to see it over.” – written to Bud’s family from Germany
March 10, 1945
“I often wish we could have been married when you visited me in Trenton, even though we'd only have had a few days together. I guess we're really better off as it is, but when this war is over I'll be coming home never again to leave you…Many a nite I have been sleeping and dreaming of you, only to wake and find it all a dream and you far away from me yet. No matter how far we are apart though, my Darling, remember that I love you with all my heart and only you…Don't worry in case you don't hear from me, I still feel sure that I'll be coming home to you safe and sound when the war is over. In case anything does ever happen, you'll know I was ready to go at any time.” – written to Elaine from Germany
April 12, 1945
“If anyone ever believed in miracles I certainly do now…We had to jump from our jeep when the Germans started shooting with everything they had…The fellows with armored cars did all they could to get us under cover, but no one could move an inch from cover without getting it. My buddy and I laid behind the rocks while bullets hit so close that pieces of stone would hit us and a small piece even hit my cheek. There aren’t words to say how scared we were and how hard we prayed…When our fellows were forced to move back for more cover, their German S.S. troopers came down the road and there were so many we didn't have a chance. One saw us and from a distance of not over ten feet, he sprayed us with a gun similar to our tommies. My buddy was between him and me and was lying so close that I could feel the bullets hit him…I dropped on my face and laid there to make them think I was dead and one of them jerked the rifle from my hands and hit us both over the head…About a half hour later I heard them coming back and my heart was beating so hard it seemed like they should have heard it...After that I laid there for almost two hours thinking there was no one left and that my only chance was to wait ‘til dark. It was like waiting a million years…I can't explain it, but when you know that because someone else took all the bullets that might otherwise have gotten you, a person feels he just can never do enough to make up for them.”
– written to Bud’s family from Germany
May 19, 1945
“Perhaps you'll read this letter and think your son is getting hard hearted. No, folks, I'm honestly not and when I return home you'll know it, but it burns we fellows up to see such things happen. What would the ordinary German soldier amount to if he didn’t have these officers over him to teach and instruct him to kill by almost every means possible? I read in the paper that the censorship office wouldn't allow the movies to show the atrocities in the German prison camps. Why don't they wake up and let the American people know what this fighting has been for? Yes, it was horrible for them to see, but it's nothing compared with what thousands of American soldiers saw and went through. Maybe it would wake up a lot of big shots, strikers, etc. to the fact that there was a war here and still a war going on in Japan.” – written to Bud’s family from Gardelegen, Germany
July 11, 1945
“The radio has been blaring all day about the great, successful raids against Japan, but there’s never a word about the Americans who are dying trying to put it across...every day takes the lives of men and results in wounds for others. One nite the unit next to us sent 29 men over on a patrol and not one came back…a German plane dropped a bomb on one of the buildings we were in. Four men were killed and Foard and three others seriously wounded. That was December 26th, after spending Christmas nite walking back from the river. On the 27th, three men from another outfit went across and didn’t return. We took 26 men and crossed to find them or see what happened. They were never found...” – written to Bud’s dad from Germany
October 13, 1945
“It was sure a big disappointment not to be going home right away like we'd planned. I hate to think of you folks sitting tonite and thinking of seeing me in less than four weeks, especially when even before you get this letter you'll have one saying I don't know when I'll be home. I was in a pretty low mood, but when a fellow stops and thinks it over, he shouldn't kick as there are thousands of people worse off than us. Think of all the fellows who went home wounded, or of families who had loved ones killed and can't even look forward to their ever coming home…” – written to Bud’s family from Bayreuth, Germany
November 28, 1945
“We slept outside under the stars in Germany Saturday nite, and Sunday nite we stayed in some stables at Metz where they have moved cots in. We are sleeping in 16-man tents here and have one little stove about 12 inches in diameter to heat the place. However, we’re only allowed a pound of coal per day for each man so it doesn’t go far. The only bad feature of it all is that the weather here is between freezing and 10 above. It’s pretty hard to keep warm even at nite. We have a large Red Cross building, or shack, about a block from our tents and spend most of our time there where they have two large barrel stoves to heat the place. It sure will be nice to get home and sit in the evening with my feet on the stove and a big bowl of popcorn in my lap…We’re wishing with all our hearts that we’ll make it by Christmas, but we just have to wait and see.” – written to Bud’s family from Camp Boston, Rheims, France
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