In 2001 my mother (Harold’s wife Dorothy) told me she had a box of Dad’s World War II letters. In emptying Grandma Moss’ home years earlier, Dad’s brother Dick found this box of letters in the garage rafters, one of three shoe boxes containing war letters from each of her three sons. Dick distributed them to each of his brothers. Dad never spoke of his World War II experiences so I was immediately excited to see these letters that I never knew existed. I was thrilled to receive them and to be reading sixty year old letters. I had a glimpse of what his mother must have felt, anxiously opening it, to see it’s contents.
Some letters had faded and were beyond legibility. All were fragile. Many had resealed themselves with the passage of time. Some envelopes still contained added treasures such as pictures, newspaper clippings, Japanese money, and worship service bulletins. The yellowed, fragile sheets of parchment have long lost their elasticity, and I was always careful to neither tear nor deface them. Each letter contains its own smell.
I discovered a young man who, to alleviate his worried parent’s concerns about having three sons in World War II at the same time, wrote lengthy details of everyday life as an Army soldier in the Pacific and wrote colorful, descriptive travel logs of the places he was stationed, all under the censor’s scrutiny. These letters begin as a new recruit, drafted out of the University of Nebraska in September 1941, and end with his release out of the Army on November 1, 1945, a period of four years and two months. Dad wrote more than the 341 letters published here for we found many references such as “I wrote you about that yesterday…” yet there was no letter found of that date.
The world of my dad as a young Army serviceman, exploded before my eyes! I discovered things I had never known. He was a dancer (yet I never saw him on the dance floor), he knew shorthand, had an intense longing for a law degree (he was the only man in his unit who owned and regularly studied his law books), contracted yellow fever and cholera while in the Pacific, and was his unit’s newspaper contributor.
I began the task of transcribing each of his letters on the computer, so preciously preserved by his parents. And thus a family book of his letters was born.
Of all the letters transcribed, only a few were cut up by the censors, yet there is a wealth of information as to his daily routine. I’m amazed at Dad’s beautiful penmanship. About half of the letters are handwritten. The other half were typewritten because of his access to the typewriters in the Personnel office. He always hand signed each of his letters (even the typewritten ones), “Harold” in large flourishes. It was very apparent in his handwriting when he was stressed or anxious, for his words were larger and his handwriting was shaky.
I get a kick out of some of the addresses on the envelopes that he sent home. Most only read “Moss, Minatare, Nebraska”. No first name, no street address, no zip code. Minatare, Nebraska I would soon learn, is a small western town in Nebraska, 12 miles south of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and with a population of 1,200 people. During Harold’s war years, his father owned the town’s furniture store, was the gas man and sold Purina Feed.
Noting popular clichés was an interesting part of these letters: “I think he’s a swell guy”; “I wished you could see”. Different word spellings were noted: “I am okeh” and “Think I will go to the theatre (show) tonight”.
More letters were written on Sunday than any other day for obvious duty-free reasons. It must have provided a quiet time for guys to think of their home and dream of returning soon.
Dad admitted in letters that details and lengthy letters were only reserved for his parents to ease their concern for him. He corresponded with others but not in as much detail. He averaged three letters a week to his parents, and his mother sent him about three letters per week too.
Included in the book were several letters sent to Harold from brothers, cousins and friends. They were included so that the beauty of Dad’s letters shined through. Brother Dick’s letters were infrequent, very brief, non-informative, and general letters, a sharp contrast to Dad’s frequent, lengthy, descriptive and informative letters home. Even under the scrutiny of the censors, he wrote around the forbidden topics such has his location and battle details.
Another recent discovery was a scrapbook his mother kept while he was at war. Many photographs she received in letters, she put in the scrapbook along with Harold’s letters published in the local newspaper Free Press, newspaper clippings of hometown boys in the war, Harold’s original draft notice and subsequent government paperwork telling him where to report for Army duty. Dad’s college friend Jack Conklin was an Army photographer who visited Harold often, giving him many of his pictures and are among the 280 photos/document collection on the website.
I discovered what a V-mail was: an all inclusive one-sided letter folded into an envelope and sent free through the first class mail. They were lightweight and small. Some enveloped V-mails were microfiched (condensed down to a 4”x5” size) and thus very difficult to read!
I learned many things through the visual glimpse of thoughts mentioned in Dad’s letters.
He was a lean 130 pounds in the Army due in part for his dislike for C-rations. He learned to play the violin in Greeley, Colorado, at the age of 8 years, when his wealthy uncle Horace Baldwin (gram Waid’s brother) sent him a violin for Christmas. He played in the University of Nebraska orchestra but in the army, his lack of privacy to practice and his shyness, led to his yearning to play but a reluctance to do so!
As a young Army man, he spoke of things in letters that I saw later in our family. He loved Shakespeare and worked on a master’s degree on Chaucer and Shakespearian works. He loved model airplanes as a hobby, especially while living in France. The importance of communication to family was evident in his love of writing. He would send descriptive travel logs back stateside, after each family European trip was taken. He valued the importance of continued education and after the war received his journalism degree. Dad was always a saver of money and I glimpsed that in his letters, when he would send portions of his monthly paychecks home during the war. Religion has always been an important part of his life. We were always a church-going family. And he loved his fiddle–practiced every Sunday evening!
Whenever possible I’ve tried to include names of men who served with Dad. Several censors had inscribed their initials to the censor’s stamp. Included is also a list of those enlisted personnel in the 225th Field Artillery Battalion, Headquarters Battery, at the end of the war on Okinawa Ruyukus, August 1945.
Dad knew I was transcribing his letters and we frequently talked. He wrote all of the section introductions and picked out the book title “A Soldier’s Odyssey: Years, Fears, and Tears”. In 2003 I presented him with a book of all his transcribed World War II letters. Unfortunately he did not live to see his letters placed on the web, to be shared with the world.
It was a joy to see my dad as a young serviceman and a privilege to touch history!