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WAR LETTERS by Andrew Carroll


Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars

edited by Andrew Carroll

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7432-0294-5
Publisher: Scribner

Poignant letters from American servicemen and their families in the midst of war.

Hindsight plays a major role in reading these letters. Many of the authors featured were dead by the time the addressees received their messages. Writing from the Civil War to the Gulf is included, with the different mentalities of each era shining through. In the War Between the States, writers committ more spelling errors and describe their campaigns extensively, including stories of meeting the enemy in person. In WWI, writers seem bewildered by the events they experience: Bombarded from afar while in trenches or sailing through waters infested with submarines, soldiers and sailors are more likely to describe their cramped living quarters and conditions in medical tents than actual combat. By Korea and Vietnam, servicemen’s letters become filled with appeals to families—either requesting guidance in conflicts they can’t understand or trying to convince Mom and Dad that the Communist menace must be stopped. Heroics are present, too, but in a mundane light. “Before we took the hill, we had a gigantic machine gun duel, and believe it or not, I went to sleep in No Man’s Land for 45 minutes,” writes an infantryman who participated in the invasion of Okinawa in WWII. After the letter, which includes much description of bloodshed, Carroll appends a note saying that military planners at the time expected far worse fighting in the invasion of Japan, which was put off with the development of the nuclear bomb. These notes sometimes provide essential context for the letters they follow, but they also occasionally feel like cheap shots. One becomes enthralled by a desperate, earnest, lonely fighting man’s letter to his wife or parents—then Carroll steps in and tells us that the man died in this or that historic battle. The weakness of the notes is testament to the strength of the letters.

An excellent primary source for readers of military history, somewhat marred by Carroll’s editorial intrusions.