Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Art of Letter Writing

Letter from Sgt. Helmut "Eric" Nimke, June 1943, to Matilda "Pat" Milazzo
Eric is 21 years old and Pat is 18 years old
My father lived into his 92nd year and Mom is plugging away as she approaches 90. Last August 3rd would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. So even though my birth places me just in advance of the official "Baby Boomer" cohort their long lives have brought me late to grieving the death of a parent. Many of my fellow 'boomers" have already experienced this as yet another rite of passage, an experience that brings deep reflection and arrival at a new place in life. I have already experienced the realization that I, wonder of wonders, am now an elder.

This experience also brings many tasks with it. One that has occupied my sister and I for months is that of sifting through all their treasures; all that they saved so they wouldn't forget; all they gathered and kept around for the sheer beauty and preciousness of each item.

My current project is that of organizing and preserving a cache of over 1,000 letters exchanged by my parents from the fall of 1942 to the fall of 1945; from my father's induction into the Army Air Corps and his return from overseas service in Guam (Pacific Theater).

As a student of history, a professional librarian and now archivist, I believe this collection will be a valuable addition to any collection of WW II materials. They will eventually go to a research institution. But now I am reading them, putting them in protective sleeves and then binders. I know the rest of the family will want to see them. But there are so many - eventually perhaps 15 binders - that no one will really have the time to read them all. So I flag the interesting or touching ones, the ones that offer valuable commentary on the way of the military, conditions on the home front, conduct of the war, national and international politics and especially some new insight or revelation concerning family events and persons.

This telegram dated July 2, 1943, four days before scheduled wedding in Brooklyn, NY reads:
 "Darling - Furlough cancelled before my eyes 4pm - Crying as I write this - Am proceeding to
 Key Field Meridian 11:15pm as per orders Adjutant General Washington -
 Even Colonel does not know why - Call everything off - Be a soldiers wife -
Will buck like hell for furlough at Field - Nothing definite - Another wire will follow -
Yours forever - Eric"

This letter is really three pages with writing on both sides of each sheet in my father's very small
handwriting. Written in pencil these are particularly difficult to decipher. But plainly seen is the USO
emblem at the top and the admonition "Idle Gossip Sinks Ships" at the bottom of each sheet.

The love that my mother and father found in each other at such a young age is quite incredible. Their story deserves retelling. More to come.

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