This Veteran’s Day is particularly significant to me this time around because of Jonathan. Although I do have to admit, I was interested in military history long before we ever dated! I’ve recently been trying to figure out exactly what makes the heroes of war such enticing reading. Everyone seems to be interested in a good war story! Lately things have become clearer.
I finally have the answer: heroes. War takes the ordinary among us and puts them in extraordinary positions. War is the worst possible outcome of human relations. It brings devastation, chaos, and pain. It is hard to see the goodness in life when you’re surrounded by so much agony. However, the stories our soldiers bring home provide that goodness we speak. Regardless of the odds and consequences they chose to sacrifice. Some sacrificed only a part of their lives while others gave all their life. In a time of so much selfishness and evil we look to the heroes of the ones fighting on the frontlines of history. Whether the cause they served is agreed with or not, their sacrifices cannot be overlooked.
Earlier this year, while working at Build A Bear, I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful gentleman one morning. He looked to be pretty old and I was impressed that he was walking around the mall on his own. He passed in front of me and decided to stop. He began to share his life with me. He told me that he was a WWII veteran. He pulled his medals out from under his jacket—he always wore them. He pulled old photographs from his wallet—drinking Hitler’s wine amongst the ruins of his bombarded home. I was astonished. This man’s body was filled with emotion as he explained that even talking about it brought the horrible stench of the concentration camps back to his mind—a smell he could not get rid of, the smell of death.
His story is not unique. There are thousands more like him waiting to tell their story. Some—especially Vietnam veterans—have been waiting a very long time for any sign of gratitude from the people they served. I entreat us all to remember and honor those who served this day. They all have given some part of themselves so that we could be whole.
Below I have compiled a few letters from my personal research. Please read them. These people had voices that deserve to be heard. The only two wars I do not have are the Spanish-American and the Iraq war. Yes, I do have personal letter from the latter—but those are for some other historian down the road to post.
June 12, 1779
This is the first chance I have had to write you. I am, by the cause of Providence, in the field in defence of my country. When I reflect on the matter, I feel myself distracted on both hands by this thought, that in my old age I should be obliged to take the field in defence of my rights and liberties, and that of my children. God only knows that it is not of choice, but of necessity, and from the consideration that I had rather suffer anything than lose my birthright, and that of my children…
I am, dear son, with great respect, your affectionate father,
May 1, 1861
“My dear Percy
…believe the South like yourselves a unit—and thus we shall enter upon this conflict forced upon us—in our faith—and relying upon God to maintain the justness of our causes, fighting manfully for our houses & rights;--and understand my brother that when the olive branch of peace is next offered, it will be extended by other hands than ours.—
Farewell Percy—and however much we may differ on the present issue—let no unkind word escape—to lacerate the heart of the other. Defend the soil of Pennsylvania if you will. Then, you and I will never meet as armed foes;--cross her Southern boundary—with hostile purpose—and we shall face each other—as brothers never should.
Love to my poor, dear old Mother—may God bless & sustain her at this terrible moment.—
Your affect brother
Thos F Drayton”
Bainbridge, Chenango County, N.Y.
Aug. 10, 1864
“My Dear Mrs Lynch,
I read in the paper the death of Mr. James Lynch, in the Army of the Southwest and in Gen. Hooker’s Division; who fell nobly daring, at the front of the Great Conflict at Atlanta, pierced by nine balls, five of which went through his heart.
I fear, nay I feel almost sure, it must be your dear husband—and that God in his mysterious Providence called you to bear this great bereavement. My dear friend—it is God’s Sovereign will—and we must bow in submission when our own time comes, or the time of those we love, and must still hold fast our faith in Him. “Though he slay me yet will I trust in Him!”
It must ever be a comfort to you to recall your husband’s words, how he said that we were in the hands of the Lord, and that no one of us knew where danger lay—that he had been safe in the midst of desperate battles, while his near friend, and connection had died by an accident at home.
…And I pray that His Consolations may abound; and that you and your dear children in Your affliction may find your Saviour to be indeed a very present Helper, strengthener and Comforter, and very near to you.
Believe me most truly
Your sympathizing friend
Samuel Roosevelt Johnson.”
*I don’t have anything from the Spanish-American War as of yet.
Here I sit in my little home on the side of the hill thinking of the little church back home, wondering how you are getting along. Don’t think I am down-hearted because I am writing you, but it’s a queer thing I can’t explain, that ever since I volunteered I’ve felt like a cog in a huge wheel. The cog may get smashed up, but the machine goes on, and I know I share in the progress of that machine whether I live or die, and that seems to make everything all right. Except, perhaps, when I lose a pal, it’s generally one of the best but yet it may be one of the worst. And I can’t feel God is in it.
How can there be fairness in one man being maimed for life, suffering agonies, another killed instantaneously, while I get out of it safe? Does God really love us individually or does He love His purpose more? Or is it better to believe he makes the innocent suffer for the guilty and that things will be squared up some day when those who have escaped suffering here will suffer, and those who have suffered here will escape suffering. Sounds rather calculating, doesn’t it, and not a bit like the love of a Father.
What I would like to believe is that God is in this war, not as a spectator, but backing up everything that is good in us. He won’t work any miracles for us because that would be helping us to do the work He’s given us to do on our own. I don’t know whether God goes forth with armies but I do know that he is in lots of our men or they would not do what they do.
Do write me and let me know how the church is getting along.
Remember me to all—especially The Altar Guild, and tell them to “carry on” the war work. My motto is “carry on”. So here’s good-luck to all.
Pvt. Walter T. Bromwich
Company A 6th U.S. Engineers American Expeditionary Forces”
April 3, 1933
Theresa, dear, why don’t you write me sometime more intimately about yourself, what your opinion on things is, what you think about, what your interest are, anything at all so that I can feel I am closer to you when I read your letters, something that will reveal you yourself, in all your charm and sweetness, just say anything at all as long as it concerns you and I will love it…
Recently I have cultivated a taste for poetry, a sure sign that I have become a mere shadow of my stern self and now am as sentimental and love-smitten as all the fellows I used to laugh at in former years. Keats and Shelley are my high-brow recreations now and fine fare they are too…
Speaking of the Bible…perhaps if Hitler read some of its valuable sayings he would be a wiser ruler than he is destined to become.
…There I go veering off at a tangent. I am grateful to this letter indeed because it has caught my interest and made me lose sight of my own mood, blue as blue can be, of an hour ago. I think I feel better now May my slumber be as peaceful as I hope yours will be tonight…so with a tender caress…goodnight. Alex” (Alex Goode)
The Korean War
8 May 1952
“My Dear Little “Bubba”—
Tomorrow you will be four years old—but when this letter reaches you your birthday will be past. Daddy wishes he could have been with you to help you celebrate—maybe next year when you are five Daddy will be there. Anyways, I hope your present came in time. And I hope you will enjoy looking at your books and having Mommie read them to you…
While Daddy is away I want you to eat all of your big man food so you’ll be ready to fish with Daddy when he gets home. And I want you to take care of Mommie now that Daddy is away. Will you promise to be a good boy? I know you will.
Daddy will write again later—when he gets to Japan. God bless you and “Sissy.”
Daddy loves you so much.
Daddy” --Captain Molt Shuler
The Vietnam War
Feb. 14, 1968
“Dear Mom and Dad
Hi folks, Well I am sorry I havent wrote to you in quite a while, but if you been listen too news you could pretty well figer out. Sigon was hit heavy and we were to. So they have been keeping us busy during day and night. We were mortared last night and about 4 days ago. Two of the fellows in the Company were wounded but nothing to serious. Now don’t you start worrying about me I am O.K. a little nervos but O.K.
I am not worried that much anyway I been reading the Bible off and on and it helps a lot. I think God is protecting me as much as he can….Mom I don’t know if I should tell you this or not, but I have to tell somebody and I can’t tell Linda because she would worrie to much, and I think you might be able to take it better than her. I think I might have killed a person but I am not sure, we were fired at and I seen some men running with rifles so I opened fire on them and one of them fell to the ground. I just pray to God for forgiveness.
It shook me up quite a bit but I am feeling better now, because we went out to where I seen him go down. We found blood but nobody. I am glad of that…I just hope you can forgive me.
Your Son in Vietnam
P.S. Write as often as possible mail call is all I have to look forward to.”
The Gulf War
Thanks for the birthday card and the pictures! It got turned around in the mail system and so I did not receive it until I had been back at work for a few days. I guess Ishould back up. On the 2nd of April we finally left Saudi Arabia…My sister and mother met me at Camp Pendleton at 3:00 am when I returned. Wow, what agreat homecoming! They had my apartment all decorated up and had already filled the refrigerator for me. I have been relaxing since then….
Thanks again for the card. I did have a good birthday but I am now over the hill (just kidding!)…Please call me if you would like to.
If you would like the rest of the stories or would like more, I suggest picking up a copy of Grace Under Fire by Andrew Carroll.