Letters

FEATURED LETTERS

War Bonds: The Songs and Letters of World War II is a musical journey interspersed with personal letters from the war's frontlines and homefront.

War Bonds actor David Zum Brunnen has collected and reads actual  historical documents from the era, ranging from the words of Franklin Roosevelt to Zum Brunnen's late father, Chester, a WWII veteran.

The personal letters - many from the archive of Rutgers University's oral history collection - are the glue that hold together more the timeless score of familiar tunes.

Melvin Johnson
Genevieve Chasm
Paul Curtis
Francis Poole
Les Normand
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Inez Sauer
Morton D. Elevitch
Rupert Trimingham
Richard Borden
Sister Brenda McBryde
Chester zum Brunnen
Florence Hollis
James Dorris
Irvin Baker
Alice Jean Mae
Nathan Hoffman
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Melvin Johnson

"Dear Dorothy, I’m okay and hope to remain so; though I expect I’ll see some pretty rough days.  Gee, but I get the lonesomest feeling at times when I think of you, the baby, and home. But this war will be over in the not too distant future. Don’t worry about me, for as I said before, I feel I’ll get back to you someday. Oceans of love, Melvin."

"Dear Dad, The future is very unpredictable; Battalions of men are shipped out of this camp every short while for overseas. Haven’t told Dorothy everything; only a few rather general ideas. That’s the hardest part of it. However, the training here is splendid. They give you everything from jiu-jitsu to simulated battle conditions. We fire the following weapons: The Garand Rifle, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Carbine, the light machine gun, the 60 mm mortar. Learn to take the weapon apart and put it together again. Also have worked with the hand grenade, the rifle grenade, and the bayonet. We hike by the hour with full equipment, go on night patrols and infiltration tactics, run obstacle courses, assault courses, take calisthenics, practice hand-to-hand combat. … You probably would notice some changes in me now.
Your son, Melvin."

"October 26, 1944. Dearest Dorothy, Your letters have been coming regularly. That last picture of the child was wonderful. Words are inadequate to tell you how much I think of Elaine, the little darling.... We’ve earned a rest. Don’t know how long we’ll be here. But it’s wonderful to eat regular hot-cooked meals again and to sleep warm and dry at night. One day at dinner, I ate 5 large hamburger steaks, besides potatoes, gravy, bread. That morning had 5 pancakes for breakfast, plus other things! Can't seem to get enough to eat! Did I tell you how beautiful you are? Love, Melvin."

"November 2, 1944. Dearest Melvin, it has been ten days since I received your last letter.  It seems so long ago. I’m anxious, of course. I’ve been quite busy this week - this being the first of the month. We have tests in shorthand about every day; so I have to work. The best I’ve netted in typing is 60 words a minute. That isn’t usual, though.  Elaine tries to sing snatches of “Swing upon a Star.” She says practically everything. Last night she said, 'Pooch bark outside,' and he certainly was. She says 'O.K.' and 'Oh, Boy!' Oh, yes, my T.B. shot was negative. Maybe you’ll get a part of your Xmas boxes about Thanksgiving. You should have a good Xmas, as far as boxes are concerned. I'm rather concerned about you. Love, Dorothy and your daughter, Elaine."


"November 5, 1944. Dearest Dorothy, enclosed is the money order for $45.00 I mentioned before. This will reach you, no doubt, before the other amounts will. I’m still all right. Not much news that I can tell you. By the way, how does our savings stack up by this time? I sure miss you. Did I tell you I heard Bing Crosby (in person) sing 'White Christmas?' That was quite some time ago. During one of our brief rest periods. Nobody can sing that song like him! Say a prayer for me and I’ll be seeing you.  Love, Melvin"


"December 1, 1944. My Darling Melvin, the message came last night.  I feel stunned although I’ve been living in fear of such a thing. My great hope is that you aren’t suffering. I know you have been through hell. I told you before, that no matter what might happen, I want you back. You must put forth every effort toward a recovery. No matter what the nature of your wounds - I will endeavor to adjust my life to your needs, and give you all the happiness I can. This morning as I was leaving our bedroom, I glanced at our daughter. She had her fingers over her eyes and was playing 'Possum.' Finally one little mischievous eye popped out, and she gave me the sweetest smile. Oh, she is a most affectionate child! Melvin, I know you are getting the best of care. I have great hopes of your returning to me soon. If you are to remain at a hospital, Elaine and I can come to see you, and that will help us all. I love you very much; so do your best for us. I am always thinking of you. Love Dorothy and Elaine."

This final letter was returned - Melvin Johnson had already passed away from his wounds on November 18, 1944.

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Genevieve Chasm

"Every morning, I had to go up to headquarters and report to the adjutant. I’d stand there at attention and he would shout at me, and he would curse and swear -- when I’m there knocking myself out, trying to form a company, something I had never done before. As I’d stand there, the other WAC officer with me would have the tears streaming down her face -- I used to get so mad at her, and I used to get so mad at him. But I stood there and I took it until one day, one day, I took the bar off my shoulder and I threw it on his desk, and I said: 'I have taken the last bit of abuse I’m going to take from you or anybody else on this post! I’m going back to my office. I’m going to call Seventh Service Command, talk to Major Bell, and I’m going to tell her to take us out of here and send us someplace where we’ll be appreciated! Because I have had nothing but... interference. I have had no help! People have been rude to us, we get obscene phone calls all the time, day and night, from people at the detachment, the company, and I have had it!' As I stormed out of the room he said, 'Just a minute miss, just a minute miss, come back here! You haven’t been dismissed!' And I walked back into the room and said, 'That's another thing! Nobody on this post will call me lieutenant -- everybody calls me miss! I'm just as much a lieutenant as any man that graduates from West Point - you want to talk to me, you call me lieutenant!' And I walked out."

- Genevieve Chasm

Paul Curtis

"Take a combination of fear, anger, hunger, thirst, exhaustion, disgust, loneliness, homesickness, and wrap that all up in one reaction, and you might approach the feelings a fellow has. It makes you feel mighty small, helpless, and alone…Without faith, I don’t see how anyone could stand this."

- Private Paul Curtis. 1944. Oak Ridge, Tennessee

Francis Poole

"They drafted me out of high school. I finished high school in ‘43 and that’s the year I entered the Army.  I had never been away from home."

- Francis Poole, US Army Medic. Raleigh, NC

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Les Normand

"My 21-year-old mind sought for new motivation and spiritual re-arming. I muttered, “If I only knew I’d be okay after the next battle, I’d be brave and gutsy -- an inspiration to the others. I rumbled inside, “Get with it, nervous soldier. Pull yourself together.” I concluded the turmoil by admitting that my soldier friends, including my brother, died willingly for a just cause. Why couldn't I? The next few days showed me - I had much more to learn."

- Private First Class, Les Normand. 1945. Tacoma, Washington. 405th Regiment, 102nd Army Infantry Division, Company B

Dwight D. Eisenhower

"Due to previous plans it was impossible for me to be with you Monday, but I thought of you and hope you had a nice time with the family.  I send you much love with this note as time has not permitted letter writing recently and probably will not for a while but I know you will understand."

- General Dwight D. Eisenhower to his wife Mamie (1944)

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Inez Sauer

My mother warned me when I took the job that I would never be the same. She said, 'You will never want to go back to being a housewife.' At that time, I didn’t think it would change a thing. But she was right, it definitely did. . . . at Boeing I found a freedom and an independence that I had never known. After the war I could never go back to playing bridge again, being a club woman . . . when I knew there were things you could use your mind for. The war changed my life completely. I guess you could say, at thirty-one, I finally grew up."

- Inez Sauer, Boeing tool clerk

Morton D. Elevitch

"For the Nth time, thanks for your package. Please don’t send me any more underwear, socks or candy... This week they are teaching us to kill... I know how to break any hold or grip and throw a man flat on his face. They even teach us how to scientifically stomp on a man.... Confidentially, I’m tired."

- Pvt. Morton D. Elevitch, Nov. 23, 1943. Duluth, Minnesota

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Rupert Trimingham

"Myself and eight other Negro soldiers were on our way from Camp Claiborne, La., to the hospital here at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. ...We could not purchase a cup of coffee at any of the lunchrooms around there... As you know, Old Man Jim Crow rules.

But that’s not all; 11:30 a.m. about two dozen German prisoners of war, with two American guards, came to the station. They entered the lunchroom, sat at the tables, had their meals served, talked, smoked, in fact had quite a swell time. I stood on the outside looking on... Are we not American soldiers, sworn to fight for and die if need be for this our country?"

- Rupert Trimingham, April 28, 1944. Hometown: Brooklyn, New York (Immigrant from Trinidad via Wales, England)

Richard Borden

"I was part of a medical unit and we went ashore with the first wave of troops on June 6, 1944 -- D-Day. Me and my stretcher mate, Rick, were scrambling across the rocks on the shore and there was this crack like a lightning bolt. We dived to the ground. A few moments later, I called to Rick about 12 feet away and said, 'Let’s move on.' When he didn’t, I rolled him over and had my first face-to-face encounter with death. He had a wife and a little girl… I said 'Please, God, let me trade places with him.' The sniper and machine gun-fire cut through the air, and I’m right beside his body. Before that day, I had never cussed, never even uttered an 'F' or a 'D.'  But at that moment - I couldn’t help but stand straight up and scream at the Germans, 'Damn you every one.' Instead of being cut down, I suddenly felt warmth and peace. We worked non-stop for two days, carrying the wounded for evacuation to hospital ships, caring for who needed it. I begged for blankets sometimes, and supplies. I pleaded many times with sailors on the landing craft to take 'just one more' casualty back to the ship. We moved off the beach about two weeks later."

- Richard Borden, Navy Corpsman. June 6, 1944. Morehead City, NC

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Sister Brenda McBryde

"There were no impassioned calls to God, no harking back to mother, only an infinitely sad, "Oh dear," from colonels and corporals alike. Strangely and mercifully, I have forgotten the deaths, although one bright face I do remember. He was brought into our tent with eyes wide open, looking about him, still remembering to be polite.  "I've often wondered what you sisters got up to," he said with a brave, cheeky smile. Then a sudden look of surprise opened his eyes very wide, and he was dead - still with a smile on his lips.  A captain of the Coldstream Guards, the same age as myself, he was caught unawares by death. With part of a shell buried in his back, he had suddenly tweaked his spinal cord and, in one astonished moment, he was gone."

- Sister Brenda McBryde

Chester zum Brunnen

"have a Nazi concentration camp here, and it is the most horrible, revolting sight possible.  It is impossible to imagine the atrocities that have been committed, the filth that the inmates died in.  Huge stacks of nude bodies lay all over the grounds in various stages of decomposition, filling the air for miles around with a terrible odor. We could smell it from miles away as we approached it, and then with the scared German villagers professing that they never knew what was going on. The barracks are huge affairs filled with bunks. In each and every bunk lies a human body - nothing more than skin and bones.  It was fully five minutes before I realized that 50 percent of the 'bodies' were alive.  The only indication of life was the feeble movement of their lips."

- Private First Class, Chester zum Brunnen. Salisbury, NC

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Florence Hollis

"We must learn to wait. To endure the slow trickle of time, from hour to hour, from day to day, for weeks in anguish and suspense. And then wait for some message, a letter sent from far off - a small scrap that tells something of how he was - some time ago when it was sent."

– Florence Hollis, war bride.

 

James Dorris

"We were coming up to the fence where many of them were waiting. Standing there, some half naked, others with clothes, gaunt, just amazing. We were stunned. And we saw the bodies lying there -- some in piles, some elsewhere.  Some I had taken for dead, and then saw that they were actually alive still. As we approached this fence where many were standing, one of them spotted a lighter I had exposed in one of my pockets. He asked me in German if I had a cigarette. I thought to myself, if I gave him a cigarette, I’ll have a riot on my hands. There’s no way, I can hand him one, so I told him as best I could that I had none. He walked away and I didn’t know if he was just disappointed or desperate. But he returned moments later with a cigarette stub that he had obviously kept for some time.  Then he slipped his hand through the fence and passed it to me and whispered, 'Thank you.'"

- Private First Class James Dorris, Chattanooga, TN

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Irvin Baker

"One day, we liberated a cave full of foodstuffs, and they found this big can, and we weren’t supposed to eat it, they said, you know, “Don’t touch the food, they probably poisoned it.'   But, there’s a sealed can, I figured, 'They didn’t make it here, why would they poison it? They have to eat it themselves,” so I opened it up with a bayonet, and little cubes of meat, evidently horse meat, and we’ve been living on K-rations, and so, this looked good.  Some of the kids said, 'Lieutenant, you told us, you were a short order cook. Please, start cooking.' So, I got some plastic C-2, which is a plastic explosive, it burns, and I said, 'Look for these,' the Japs had vegetable gardens and, of course, it’s all trampled, blown out, 'find anything that’s green.'

So, they found some scallions, and we rinsed them off with our canteen water, threw it in there, and the sergeant major was leaning against a rock wall, and he had a handlebar mustache.  He was a twenty-year man, and I said, 'Top, you get the first taste,' and he leaned over, he took his taste, and then he keeled over. I mean, 'My God, it was poisoned. I’m going to be court-martialed.' Then I looked behind him, he had had six bottles of sake! He got to the cave before we did, and disposed of all the sake! He was stone drunk! But, that was the best meal we had.  They loved it. They kept looking for more. That was the only time we had a chance for hot food.

- Irvin Baker, Akron, Ohio

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Alice Jean Mae

"Towards the end of the war, I was given a top-secret assignment to ferry a B-29 to a base on the West Coast. Now the B-29 was a hugh four engine plane, the largest plane to fly in the war. As I approached the base, I radioed ahead for instructions. The tower came on and told me to get off the air because a B-29 was coming in! I got back on and said, 'Mister, I am the B-29!'"

Female Air Force Service Pilot, Alice Jean Mae

Nathan Hoffman

"This is the last day of the last month of the year, and this should be the last letter that I shall write to you... So long, honey, and pucker up - 'cause here I come. "

- Sgt. Nathan Hoffman, December 31, 1945. Waco, Texas.

His 'honey,' Evelyn, was waiting for him, and they were married a month later.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world.  The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world.  The third is freedom from want - everywhere in the world.  The fourth is freedom from fear - anywhere in the world."

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President of the United States of America

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