Letters from the Good War

A running series of World War II letters written by a Navy Seabee who served in the South Pacific theatre taking the reader through the entire war experience.

Saturday, July 02, 2011



Thanks to my mother (who was in her mid-forties when I was in the service), who saved every letter I had written to her and my father (about 50) and my brother (about 15) during the war, I'm able, in my seventh decade, to recapture what it was like to be an adolescent crossing into manhood in those dark days. Perhaps "recapture" is the wrong word, because the letters really fail to bring back the feelings I had then, or remind me of the incidents I describe. I remember virtually nothing. Indeed, that wide-eyed 19-year-old is such a total stranger to me, that I'm more comfortable referring to him in the third person. But from these letters I can see, with some objectivity, what I was like during those formative years, and how I became the adult that both failed and succeeded in various aspects of my later living. I'm most fortunate. Few are given the opportunity to have a clear picture of what they once were and whence they came.

At times, as I transcribed the letters into the computer, I felt like shaking this Hughie and telling him to loosen up, get with it. He was compulsive about many things, grossly immature about many others, and he lacked the wisdom of patience. He allowed many opportunities to pass him by. I was shocked to see how blatantly Freudian his ties to his mother were. And I confess being surprised at the relentlessness of his drive for recognition and advancement, derived in large part, it seems, from his need to please his parents. But I also found myself admiring his willingness to admit error and look at himself with some objectivity. And I saw in him qualities, such as love for family and respect for others, a resilience, and a strong moral sense, that a mother and father could treasure in a son. Actually, as the transcribing progressed I found myself feeling like a father to that lad who was, incredibly, myself.

As you move into the letters, I believe you will get to know the personality of the writer as he can rarely be known in a novel or poem. You will be observing the writer develop into early manhood, and, perhaps, note a certain maturing of his writing style during the two years and nine months that the letters cover. But more fascinating, I think, you'll gain from these letters a feel for the times that were so different from the way things are today, through the eyes of an adolescent who misses no detail, no nuance, in his observation of the world around him.

By the time the transcribing was completed, I was overwhelmed with feelings of loss and regret, loss of the youthful spirit that has gradually ebbed during the years of my life's tribulations, and regret that after the war I didn't maintain contact with the many kind, dear friends (described in detail in the letters) that I had acquired during my wartime travels in the U.S. and overseas.


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