An untold memoir of “The Greatest Generation” as told through the wartime letters of my grandparents.
Letters, artifacts and maps from the project
About the Project
Shortly after my grandmother’s death in 2008, my mother discovered 431 letters spanning 1943-1945 that my grandparents had written to each other during World War II. Kept by my grandmother for over 60 years, the letters shed light onto the lives of my grandparents during this critical time in world history.
My grandparents, Ken and Sally, grew up in Flint, Michigan. High school sweethearts, they married at a young age in June 1941, as the US involvement in World War II escalated. In May 1943, on his 21stbirthday, Ken would receive his draft notice. Within weeks their marriage was tested as he boarded a train to Southern California to report for "basic training." Sally would join him in fall 1943 when she moved to be nearby. They would be separated again in the fall of 1944 when Ken’s unit was deployed to Europe. Sally would return home to Michigan and discover shortly thereafter that she was pregnant with their first child.
When reading the letters from this time, the details of daily life are slowly revealed one letter at a time. My grandfather wrote home to his wife about the daily observations of a young man during a difficult time in our nation's history. There is desperation, pain, longing and hope within his words. My grandmother wrote back to him words she hoped would lift his spirits and give him a reason to go on.
The correspondence encompasses the simple things: being young, newly married, and at war at a time when the future is unknown. There is confidence in my grandfather's voice that he was helping rid the world of evil forces. But we also learn that he was conflicted and unsure if what he was doing was the right thing by participating in war.
Growing up, there was a certain mystique about my grandfather's time in the military. There were vague stories among the family that no one could quite confirm. Those stories would come to life when my mother would show us my grandfather's large metal foot locker that she kept with all his possessions from his time in the military. Among the artifacts that he brought back from the war was a dagger with a swastika on the handle. This item more than anything else caused the most mystery among the family. We thought he was captured by the Germans, but we didn’t know exactly how he obtained it.
I wanted to delve into the myth of family history and use these newly discovered letters to gain a greater understanding of this time in world history. I have woven together a narrative that tells the story of this challenging time in their personal history. These selected letters intertwine the impactful moments of their story as a couple and my grandfather's involvement in the larger picture of world history.