One night in December 1944, Army Air Corps officer Frank Glut wrote home from England to thank his wife Julia for the nine letters he'd gotten from her that day. He told her he'd been promoted to First Lieutenant, but there was little more he could add. Frank didn't want to inadvertently reveal a secret that led to any American dying. He certainly didn't want to tell Julia how dangerous his own life was, weaving through flak and fighters, trying to find a target thousands of feet below. So he just told her how much he loved her and missed her, and said goodbye.
Frank Glut died the next day, shot down over Germany. Julia has been comforted by the goodbye in that last letter, and the thanks too, for almost sixty years now.
"Any kind of mail is good mental ammunition!" Women's Home Companion.
"Can you pass a mailbox with a clear conscience?" Dole Pineapple ad.
During the war, Americans were strongly encouraged to write to everyone in uniform they could. Besides regular overseas mail, the Postal Service created V-Mail, that was sent on microfilm, so more letters could go at once and not be lost forever if a mail plane went down. The campaign worked. Billions of letters were sent to military personnel, who sent billions of letters back.
Very few of the letters were eloquent. The writers weren't trying for eloquence; they were trying to make a connection in the only way they had available to them. Men in horrendous situations would lie repeatedly to the folks and the lovers and the wives back home, saying everything was okay. And back home they wouldn't find out the truth until war's end. Sometimes they never found out. The letters would suddenly stop coming. Each new day the postman walked by was agony. Then in a few weeks a telegram would arrive from the War Department, expressing regrets. And that simple last letter home would acquire a poignancy and meaning never intended by its author.
A goal of any work of art is to share the emotion, the truth of a life at a moment in time. If so, then the letters that went back and forth across the continents between
1941 and 1945 are collectively one monumental work of art: composed of billions of simple, small pieces - pieces that share the moments of triumph, tragedy, love, hatred, duty, and loss.