While he was in college,Andrew Carroll received a phone call that changed the way he looks at letters.
His father called to tell him their house had burned down. Knowing his father enjoyed joking,Carroll was skeptical. Reality hit when his father emphasized what happened.
The family lost everything,including letters Carroll received from a friend who was in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“What breaks my heart is that people actually delete their e-mails and throw out their letters,” Carroll said.
Carroll has taken his passion for preserving letters and made it into a project,which led to the compilation of two books of wartime letters.
“Behind the Lines,” Carroll's second book,includes approximately 200 previously unpublished letters and e-mails. It includes a letter future novelist and then-Pvt. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote to his father in Indiana on May 29,1945,after being released as a prisoner of war.
Captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge,Vonnegut wrote about how soldiers in his division were treated: “The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation,thirst and exposure. I didn't.”
Although no one in Carroll's family has been in the military,he said wartime correspondence has historic purpose and is the best way to honor those who served.
“They are unfiltered and the most authentic voices we have on the subject of war,” Carroll said. “What better way to safeguard their memory than through their words?”
He said these letters are glimpses into the lives of everyone affected by war and tell stories about our history. Offering more than vivid descriptions inside war,they “capture the more human side of warfare and reveal the thoughts and emotions of troops who have been eyewitnesses to these events,” Carroll said.
Some of the book's topics include descriptions of combat,humor (including “gripe” letters and funny anecdotes) and assurances to anxious family members that all was well – even if it was not.
“Hello All! I'm sure your thoughts and concerns are for us in Saudi,but we are fine. Keep watching the news and you'll see more action than myself,” Sgt. John Madden of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve wrote on Feb. 16,1991,to his parents and relatives in Florida from Saudi Arabia.
The letter to his brother about the Gulf War on the same day had a different tone.
“I'll be honest in respect as to your concern,the flies are huge! Tell Mary K and Greg I said Hi. I should be home soon. See you later,John this goes no further!” he wrote.
“The flies are huge!” was a prearranged code Madden had given his brother to indicate that a land battle against the Iraqi forces was imminent. “Tell Mary K and Greg I said Hi” was a code indicating Madden would be near the front of the invasion and very much in danger when the ground war started less than a week later.
After talking to Carroll at a book signing,Madden,now a construction worker in Fort Lauderdale,Fla.,retrieved letters from his mother's house – the first time he had seen them since he wrote them – and gave them to Carroll.
In a telephone interview,Madden talked about an excerpt in the book,a letter a German fighter jet pilot wrote to his mother more than 50 years ago.
“We are much more alike than we know,” Madden said. “If you just read the letter you would think that it was a letter from somewhere in Milwaukee or someplace.”
To find out more about preserving letters go to http://www.warletters.com