A touching testament to the human will, War Letters is an anthology of correspondence written by those involved in America's major conflicts, from the Civil War to Desert Storm. The writings of soldiers and spies, nurses and wives, journalists and POWs collected here provide new perspectives on the culture of war while laying bare the emotions behind the writers' brave facades. Part of Andrew Carroll's Legacy Project, a national volunteer effort to find and preserve war letters, the book is the culmination of careful editing. After "Dear Abby" helped launch the project in 1998 with a column advising readers to dig up their old letters, Andrew Carroll received 50,000 pieces of correspondence from across the country. For this book, he chose 175 letters.
One of the few positive things that can be said about war is that it inspires good correspondence. The full range of human emotions is represented in these pages: love letters, vengeful letters, humorous letters, uncertain letters, grieving letters. Each provides a window into a persona and a heart. The letter of Lieutenant David Ker a Columbia University student who left college to fight in World War I in which he assures his mother that he is not afraid of dying, takes on a special poignancy when the reader learns that he became one of the 7,000 casualties in the American offensive at France's St. Mihiel. Some of the letters strike a humorous note, including a self-described tall tale about life at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Korean War written by Captain H. Richard Hornberger, M.D., and addressed to his mother and father. After the war, Homberger made history of his own when he wrote the book M*A*S*H.
Whether proud, despairing, sarcastic or angry, these letters hide between their lines soldiers scared and longing for home, family members pining for loved ones, prisoners hoping for freedom. Written against all odds, these letters in the end reveal what it means to be human and to endure.
Vivian A. Wagner, Ph.D., is a freelance writer who lives in New Concord, Ohio.