I have a box of my parents’ war letters that I've never read. I've skimmed maybe a half-dozen over the years but it just didn't seem right. I felt like I was intruding. My dad was a paratrooper in WW-II. Actually he was one of those guys that fell out of the sky in what you could jokingly call a glider...the glider infantry. I'm sure nobody joked about it back then but to see one of those contraptions today your response would be "You've got to be joking!!” These things were made out of light material stretched over a frame and packed with soldiers. They were towed on a tether by a powered plane and then cut loose to silently glide, without any kind of power, down to their intended landing site --usually in the face of German ground fire. We don't hear much about the glider infantry today, probably because mortality rates were very high.
This all happened before I was born and, luckily, my dad survived and lived a long and happy life. He never talked about his war experiences. I remember seeing some photos that he took of the glider landing sites. Most of the gliders were in pieces and scattered across the ground. The Germans would cut trees down but leave stumps or erect wooden posts in pastures to obstruct the landing zones. He was also at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge but only talked about how cold it was. He had a few pictures of that as well. At the end of the war he was among the first Americans to be sent into Berlin as the Russians pulled back, taking everything they could carry. Yep, more pictures.
My mom was at home with an infant, my older brother. Her letters were cheery and full of baby news. I know she sent my dad one of my brother's first shoes and he carried it with him. It's in the box, pressed flat as a pancake. It must have been in his pocket as he moved across Europe. Like I said, I feel like I'm intruding when I open the box.
My daughter only knew my parents for a few years. Those were mostly the years they shared a room in a nursing home and, surprisingly, she has some pretty good memories. My mom's Alzheimer’s disease made her seem more like a playmate than a sick grandmother. My dad was a tease whenever my daughter came to visit and she loved it.
Jumping ahead a few years, my daughter has grown up and works as an archivist/researcher at the state historical society. She would like to go through the letters and sort them out, pair them up, and maybe see what my parents were experiencing during those years of separation. At first I was a little reluctant. But on second thought, my mom and dad kept those letters, tied up with ribbons, for over fifty years. As far as I know, they never got them out of the box or read them in all that time and we didn't even know they existed until after they were gone. If they didn't want anyone to read them they would have tossed them out decades ago. The letters belong to my daughter as much as they belong to me. While I still have mixed feelings, I'm kind of looking forward to opening up the box.
Causes Ken Hartke Supports
Save the Children, public broadcasting