On November 11th, 1943, when Veterans Day was called Armistice Day, my grandmother sat down to write her youngest son, my Uncle Frank. She had received two anxious, confessional letters from him, telling her how he got into an argument with a sergeant and was now paying the price in demerits and restrictions. Click here to see Frank’s two letters of 11/6 & 11/10 describing what happened).
She writes him with gentle advice about avoiding future such confrontations, but also with the loving concern of a mother, eager to see her child healthy and happy in his relationships with friends and girlfriends.
In the heat of the Iraq War, ten years ago, the Chicago Tribune published an essay I wrote about this letter on the front page of its Perspective Section. The essay covers the highlights of this letter and how a mother tries to “be there” for her faraway soldier son. You can read the full text of her letter below, but if you wish read the essay, click here.
Once again, I am leaving many of my grandmother’s misspellings and “English with a German accent” in place unless doing so interferes with meaning.
Chicago, ILL 11/11/43
My Dear Ebner,
Many thanks for your letter…. I pray that [the argument with the sergeant] will not harm you later. So the army is all over the world the same way—to get blamt for something not your doing. I say again—be only yourself. Then you will be all right. God will be with you. Just think next time you’re bawled out by a man who is higher than you, think on God. It doesn’t matter where you are. Just say these lines, “Help me to speak calmly.” That verse helps me stay steady when I was blames by my bosses in our work. You have to believe truly and think on God.
I pray every day for you that the trouble you had should not harm you later, so I am not worried about that.
Your tonsils are out. You know what I do with the iodine and hot water for the tonsils.
Did you ever drink hot chocolate or eat a fresh pear before you got sick? Hot water is only good for preventing it.
Is your stomach weak? Watch what you eat. No one can help you as surely as you yourself.
I am glad you had a swell girl and had a goot time. I wish you a sweller girl. If you ever take a picture of you and your girl, send me a snapshot too. I’d like to see your companion. I know you are thinking of your future.
[Fred] and Lil, get [to read] my letters or better yours, as we are living in one building now. [My parents, Fred & Lil, moved about a month earlier into the Keeler and Madison St. apartment building, where my grandparents lived and which they also managed and cared for]. We don’t go to their apartment but they come down here. Don’t worry. They understand that you not got the time.
Will is now home two nights a week and not in school until midnight. So it is not so dead in the house [as when it’s only Pa and me]. I am so lonesome. I sometimes talk to the picture of my three boys, but I just stand often looking and praying for my 3 boys and for the freedom. God is so goot, soon after he gives me peace in my thoughts. So write me as you can. I am glad for every bit.
Your Pop begins to go to the dentist with his teeth. One hat to pull out and it broke so next week they cut the gum on the other tooth. I hope it will be better after it is pulled out.
I am again drinking Ovaltine [this and not coffee because of my nervous heart. [She suffered from tachacardia, a racing heart.] Last week I was many days resting every minute I could spare so you see in mind and thought we are together
I hope this week God leads your thought to the best for your safety.
Dec 13 we may all go to Schmidt Church for supper. From 6pm on is the turkey dinner and moving picture so in case you come home, we may be there. Will likes to go from there to the dancing on the Northside ballroom. [She is probably referring to the Aragon Ballroom on Lawrence Ave.]
For you I have a veal steak or a round steak ready if you come home for the weekend and you will like it (I hope). Are you still a flight Lt.? How you getting along with your school? Is it too hard for you or not too bad? Tell me, have you got a goot fellow for your friend? How about those [boys] who were here. Are you not together anymore?
How is the weather?
Harold [the pastor’s brother] is home. For how long we don’t know yet. He may get a medical discharge. He was badly stabt and shot through both shoulders and hip by the Japs. But he looks real goot. [Click here to see the 10/21/43 letter in which she first reports Harold’s injuries].
I did not hear from Cooky [Frank’s at-home girlfriend] or see her. She had a cold so her Dad and Marvin Newman my be shipped soon overseas. He was home for 10 days.
Can you recall our Tribune delivery boy, an Italian young man? His brother, a nice-looking young man, about 17 years old. He is in the air force before the beginning of the war. He is from the beginning in Australia, then in Sicily. He flies one of those small planes. He had no damage done to his body till the last battle in Sicily. Then he got shot down. Broken arm, broken feet, broken back and collarbone. He was home for 45 days. So the 8th December he went back again. This is what his brother told me and Dad.
This month I got 2 of your bonds [war bonds]. Today came the second one.
With lots of love and XXXXX from us all,
Your loving Mother