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each a time capsule
War Letters, Part II
- Author’s Note: Amelia Blakey Wheatley shares her late father’s 1944 letters from North Camp Hood Texas and Camp Shelby Mississippi. The letters give us a sense of what life was like for Private Charles A. Blakey, his brother, Roy, parents, sister, and friends during World War II. We thank her.
“Letters to and from the front lines were a lifeline for service men and women fighting in World War II. Few things mattered more to those serving abroad than getting letters from home, ‘mail was indispensable,’ one infantryman remembered. ‘It motivated us. We couldn’t have won the war without it.’ The mail, whenever it arrived, also helped reassure the worried families of servicemen back home.” —“The War, Letters & Diaries,” PBS
In Part I, we learned that life’s concerns three-quarters of a century ago were not that different from today’s interests. What strikes me most about these letters is how differently people communicate today. We send emails with the click of a mouse and they arrive in seconds. People back in 1944 put a lot more effort into their letters. And they were patient. They waited and waited and waited to hear from loved ones and a walk to the mailbox was a suspenseful time. Envelope and parchment held hopes and dreams and more. At times receiving a letter was a crushing experience. We’ve all heard about “Dear John” letters.
“War Letters, Part II, shares those things that mattered to war-weary people in 1944. On March 30, 1944 an upset Private Blakey wrote his mother. “I haven’t heard from you all in a long time. What is the matter with you all? I haven’t heard from a soul in four days. And I am telling you it doesn’t make me feel good either when I go to mail call and don’t get any mail.”
He continues, getting down to his training. “I shot the .50 caliber machine gun today. They shoot so fast that you can’t count the shots. We shot at an airplane. It was a toy plane but it had a motor in it and it was about the size of a one-motor airplane back home. We had a lot of fun shooting at it. We throw hand grenades tomorrow. I know that it’s going to be fun.” Then he adds… “It is pretty dangerous if you don’t know how to throw them.” (In a subsequent letter he wrote that he shot a gun with a grenade on the end of it. “I am telling you it kicked like a mule.”)
He wonders why his girl hasn’t written him and assumes that she is busy. And he mentions some bad luck. “We are under quarantine again from the mumps. Some of the guys’ wives have come to camp but they can’t see them. That is tough I am telling you.”
On April 2, Private Blakey wrote his mother. “I received your letter yesterday. I had begun to think that you all had forgotten me. Mama, how is everything back home? Fine I hope. How is Daddy making out with the work? I will be there to help just as soon as I get my furlough.”
As for basic training, if things didn’t go well, soldiers had to start over. Private Blakey wrote several times about his fear that he may have to start over. And he had reason to. “We are starting on our seventh week next week. I hope I don’t have to start over again. I would have been in my twelfth week if I hadn’t started over with my basic.”
In a letter to his sister and mother he asked for a picture of home, an antidote to homesickness? Often he ended letters, writing, “Write me as often as you possibly can.”
Private Blakey’s brother, Roy, who was in the Navy wrote him June 10, 1944 while on furlough to Danburg. “I really hate to go back to that dreadful ship. I hate it. I don’t know how I can stand it any longer. Life seems so quiet here but there—Oh my. I will leave Atlanta Sunday at 7:15 p.m. and will arrive in Seattle at 8:05 a.m. the 15th. I dread the trip, only three thousand and one and a few miles.” Then he offers some brotherly advice about being in the service He uses his nickname for his brother, Drip (possibly because brother Charles was often slow at doing things.) “Drip, I hope you have a nice time and don’t act like a damn fool like the rest.” He then turns to his marital status. “I’m still a single man and will be until this war is over.”
On July 29, 1944, Private Blakey is a good bit closer to home. He writes from a new base, Camp Shelby Mississippi. The monotony of base camp continues nonetheless. “Well, there is nothing around here to write about. This old place is just the same and I don’t like it any better.”
There were things, however, to write about. “The chiggers are really rough around here.” Later he turned to a subject most Southern boys love. “Wish I could have been at the barbecue Sunday. I know it was good if daddy had anything to do with it. I wish I had some fried chicken. I could eat one every day and never get tired of chicken.”
And what might be better than chicken? Girls. “I got a letter from Lois Thursday. She sent me Doris’s and Rose’s pictures. They are the cutest things in the world. I would do anything in this world if they were mine. I showed some of the boys their pictures and they like to have went crazy over them.”
He brings up some optimism in his July 29, 1944 letter to his mom. “Mama, the news sounds good now. I don’t think the war will last much longer. I hope not anyway.”
The end was coming. In a year and 35 days, World War II would end September 2, 1945, and Charles and Roy Blakey could at last go home.
As the years went by, the writers of these letters and the people in them passed away, one by one. The letters long gathered dust until Amelia came upon them. Now, thanks to all the writers and thanks to Amelia, we see what life was like seventy-two years ago when the greatest war the world has known was raging.
- Image: the feature image, "War Letters," is a photo by Tom Poland.