Father’s Day is Sunday and even though my dad passed away many years ago, the June celebration gets me thinking about him more. Especially this year.
I grew up with a houseful of older and younger sisters and as the only boy it’s where my status as ALWAYS in the MIDDLE really began. A few weeks back one of my sisters called to say she’d found a box of old letters. My dad’s letters from World War II.
Each of the more than two dozen letters are filled with humor but also eye-opening accounts of the horrors of war. As I read through them a middle grade story began to form—a troubled ten-year-old finds a box of great grandfather’s WW II letters and begins to change the person he or she wants to be. Just an idea, but one I’m going to keep playing around with in the coming months.
My father’s story wasn’t unique for the time, but quite eye opening for me here in a very different 2020. After my Dad graduated from high school he waited a few months before enlisting in the Army, knowing he’d most likely get drafted anyway.
Years later he wrote this account of his first day as a soldier:
The barracks looked like chicken houses. It was early the pitch-black morning of Nov. 27, 1944, at the front gate to Fort Logan. I shook my father’s hand, stared at the “A” gasoline rationing sticker on the windshield of the 1941 Chevrolet, got out and turned my back in tears as Dad drove away. I marched through the gate to be challenged: “Halt, who goes there?” Instead of crying out “an 18-year-old kid filled with fear of war,” I responded. “a new recruit, sir.”
After a brief training stint in Texas he was shipped off to Europe. Below are a few snippets of a boy’s letters home during a horrific war:
May 27, 1945 (France) Six Months ago today, France seemed quite a distance. That was the day I went to Ft. Logan… Our food is swell. We even had real eggs this morning with shells on them. I don’t know where they came from but they were sure good.
May 29, 1945 (France) Well we took a little walk this afternoon and fired the machine guns. I spread a little gravel before chow and then went to the Red Cross for a cup of hot coffee and 4 doughnuts. I believe I will go back for some more soon.
June 3, 1945 I have moved from France to Germany via way of Luxembourg, Belgium, and Holland and gazed at it all from the floor of a box car. I am going to sleep on a cot tonight instead of the boxcar floor. I imagine I will sleep pretty good.
June 5, 1945 …As for the Germans they are cocky and arrogant, one little kid was showing off a picture of himself in the Hitler Youth Movement.
June 17, 1945 (Father’s Day) I want you to know I am thinking of you today and thanking you for your 18 years of trouble I caused you. You did a real good job though.
June 25, 1945 I feel funny with all of these vets wearing combat infantry badges, silver stars, bronze stars, purple hearts, & Russian awards. They are swell guys though… I could use a flashlight, and if you know of any place you could get a small camera draw the money out of the bank as it won’t do me any good for a long time.
June 28, 1945 Above all don’t worry about me. I don’t know what is in store for me but if it is in the Pacific I would like it. I feel I haven’t done my part when guys all around me have had men blown up beside them and seen men’s bodies look like mush.
August 26, 1945 No, I don’t smoke but it is alright if you send me a lighter as I have many good friends who could use it and will be glad to pay any amount you ask for it.
September 12, 1945 My guardian angel was with me today. I was moving with fellow GI’s by foot, 40 & 8 train boxcars, and truck to German front. We were camped in a muddy field when loud speakers were set up and the rolling tones of Winston Churchill’s voice announced the end of the battle. Then the German troops, fearful of the Russians, surrendered to us in waves.
October 2, 1945 Remember how I use to gripe at the food at home, never again.
Nov. 3, 1945 I took a shower today, got a haircut and shave and am already to go out with my best girl on this Sat night but of course I don’t have the girl.
Feb. 10, 1946 I haven’t been writing very much of late but we have been moving around and those long truck rides in a slow convoy over rough roads take my enthusiasm for literature completely away.
March 10, 1946 I guarded at the trials last week and frankly I was disappointed, they are certainly spending money and time to no great advantage. I will be rather glad when it is over and we move out of Nuremberg. I never did like a big city and this is worse than any of them at night.
April 26, 1946 I don’t like to brag mother and the whole family need not read this but not once since coming overseas have I sworn. I hear a lot of it every day but I get along without using it, so you don’t need to worry one bit about me.
June 1, 1946 P.S. Send more candy
What a wonderful blog! I just finished going through my dad’s letters that he wrote my mom when he was overseas. He was a journalist when he enlisted (and a wonderful writer), and ended up managing a hospital in Italy so he sometimes had access to a typewriter. I can just picture him pounding away, sharing everything with my mom – except the gory details of the war. He must have seen a lot, but it’s rarely mentioned. Instead, he opted for a lot of background on the “characters” around him, and romance!☺ BTW – he was the only boy with six sisters. Write your book!
(Anne O’Brien Carelli, MG author of Skylark and Wallcreeper, Little Bee Books).
Great post! It is easy to see where you got your love for writing in the account your father wrote years later. I do think your story nugget has real potential.
Now I know the double meaning of your blog’s name. Thank you for sharing these personal letters with us. Just wow to the emotions I’m feeling now.
Facinating! Your sister found a treasure and you will give it voice. Go to it!
So that’s how you chose “Always in the Middle…” for your blog.
Such a wonderful tribute to your father today! I agree, you will find a story to write — so special to have his letters. My father served in the WW II about the same time, but never really saw battle. He was a gunner. The war was ending, but he was in his 20s and followed a similar path as your dad, after the war. My dad didn’t talk much about it.
Actually growing up in the middle was only the start. I ended up teaching at the middle grade and middle school level along with writing and reviewing MG books. The middle is a good place to be!
P. S. Send more candy. I love that ending to this wonderful blog. What a gift to find those letters. Thanks for sharing them. He sounds like a terrific guy.
What an amazing find, Greg. A message from the past to treasure.
What a beautiful post! The excerpts from the letters you share are quite impactful. Also, your idea to use this as the basis for an MG story is a great one! Thank you for sharing these important mementos of another time!
I’ll be waiting for that novel! What a find, and how great that your dad was able to have a career at a newspaper. I’m middle aged in the mid west AND in middle school, so I agree with you.
Wonderful tribute, Greg. And what a gift those letters are. I can hardly wait for you to write this MG novel. Be well!
I got chills reading these snippets from his letters. What a treasure!
Greg, these are amazing! Definitely write that story.
My son is in the middle of 6 sisters. Today I reprimanded him, “Strong boys never hurt their sisters,” and he replied, “I just can’t figure out all this boy life stuff!” 😉