World War II Letter to Soldier Serves as Keepsake for Grandson

Melissa Knowles
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A letter from home to soldiers at war can do wonders for their morale. Letters can also help those in the present make sense of the past. Devin Higgins, a journalist in Washington state, has a special keepsake from his grandparents that gives him a comprehensive view of what life was like during World War II for his family.

Higgins's grandmother Madeline began writing to her husband, Clarence, in early 1945. Madeline put a 36-foot sheet of shelf paper into a typewriter and just started to pour out her heart. Over the course of six weeks, she had written almost 48,000 words. Higgins jokingly said the letter is "almost as long as 'The Great Gatsby.'"

Clarence had been stationed near the Pacific Ocean with the Seabees, the U.S. Navy's construction battalion, during the war. The letter Madeline wrote her husband details life at home in Winchendon, Massachusetts, including everything from town gossip to what she was doing to make ends meet while her husband was away. Madeline even details what it was like to experience shortages of food staples like butter. "It's been so long since we tasted real butter we almost didn't know what it was."

When Higgins was 16, his grandfather gave him the tattered, yellowed letter so he could take a look. Higgins has now transcribed the letter in its entirety, and he hopes to have it printed as a book. In an excerpt from the letter, Madeline expresses the joy in writing to her husband: "It has been such a comfort to have something to come home to. It was like coming home to you." For Devin, he is happy to share his grandmother's touching tribute to her husband with the world.