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'America's Great Undiscovered Literature:' Letters From U.S. Soldiers

This photo of American soldier George Ciampa was taken in October 1945, in Stuttgart, Germany, during World War II.
This photo of American soldier George Ciampa was taken in October 1945, in Stuttgart, Germany, during World War II.

How do we remember what happened during wartime?

One way is through preserving the letters soldiers wrote home. Andrew Carroll has made it his life’s mission to retain them. His cousin, James Carroll Jordan, was a pilot in World War II.

Here’s what one of Jordan’s letters home said:

“I saw something today that made me realize why we’re over here fighting this war,” Jordan wrote to his wife, Betty Anne. That day he had been tasked with visiting Buchenwald, the Nazi concentration camp, which had been liberated a few days earlier. “When we first walked in we saw all these creatures that were supposed to be men,” Jordan wrote. “They were dressed in black and white suits, heads shaved and starving to death.” His descriptions of this almost unbelievable scene are vivid and brutal, though he told his wife he had spared her the worst of it. Finally, he wrote, “our time was up, so we boarded our truck and rode home, just thinking.”

As handwritten letters become rarer, how are we preserving wartime correspondence? And what can we learn from these letters?

On this Veteran’s Day, we talk about those questions and more.

If you have a letter you’d like to preserve, you can find all the ways to do that here.

This show was produced by Michelle Harven in partnership with Smithsonian Magazine.

GUESTS

Andrew Carroll, Founding director, Center for American War Letters at Chapman University; @andycarrollusa

Benjamin Patton, Founder, Patton Veterans Project; @pattonvets

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

© 2019 WAMU 88.5 – American University Radio.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.


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