War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Warsby Andrew Carroll
In 1998, Andrew Carroll founded the Legacy Project with the goal of remembering Americans who have served this nation and preserving their letters for posterity. Since then, more than 50,000 war letters discovered in basements, attics, scrapbooks, and old trunks have poured in from around the country. The best of these letters are assembled in this extraordinary collection, offering unprecedented insight into the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War, the Persian Gulf, and even the fighting in Somalia and the Balkans.
Featured here are dramatic accounts of combat written immediately after the most ferocious battles American troops have ever faced; poignant expressions of love by homesick husbands and sweethearts; humorous anecdotes and gripes about insufferable conditions; thoughtful reflections on the nature of warfare; and perhaps most devastating, a startling number of last letters, heartfelt messages penned just hours before the sender was killed.
War Letters is a testament to the heroic contributions and astonishing literary voices of common soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors, as well as war nurses, journalists, spies, and chaplains. There are also previously unpublished letters by such legendary figures as William T. Sherman, Clara Barton, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernie Pyle, Helen Keller, Douglas MacArthur, Julia Child, Dwight Eisenhower, Norman Schwarzkopf, and America's first black general, Benjamin O. Davis Sr.
"Individually, the war letters collected here are distinct, finely cut works of art, some more polished, some rougher around the edges, but each one exquisite in its own right. Together, they create a larger narrative: the story of Americans at war against themselves and other nations," observes Carroll in his introduction. These historic letters capture the full fury and intensity of warfare, and they reveal in vivid detail what the servicemen and -women of this nation have experienced and sacrificed on the front lines. War Letters is a lasting tribute to those who have fought for this country, and a celebration of the enduring power and lyricism of personal letters.
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Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from The Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, & Bosnia
S. Sgt. Dan Welch, a tank commander with the 1st Infantry Division, Seventh Corps, was also elated by Iraq's surrender. But in a letter written to his mother and extended family back in Maine a week later, Welch began to express more ambivalence about the brief, almost surreal war he had just experienced. Welch was also unsettled by the Allies' decision not to assist the Iraqi rebels struggling to topple Hussein. (Marianne is his wife and Chris is his three-year-old son. Although Welch states that he is writing from the "King Faud Military City," he later realized he was, in fact, at the King Khalid Military City.)
8 March 91
I'm now back in Saudi Arabia. I'm in a maintenance collection point about 20 miles from King Faud Military City (K.F.M.C). The rest of my unit is still in N. Kuwait. My tank developed an oil leak part way through the fighting, and finally quit 2 days ago.
I don't know if KFMC is on the map, but if it is you know where I am. I sure don't. I wrote some place names I saw on the way here on the back of my hand, but I did my laundry today and......
We passed Kuwait City on the coast road in the middle of the night. I can't describe it. I mean the scene on the highway. We all just looked at it in the moonlight as we drove through the now silent carnage, going "God damn, God damn......"
I talked to a lieutenant today who saw it during the day while it was still fresh, and he gave an interesting description of the dead that still littered the highway, vehicles, etc. He picked up a beret out of the front seat of a car, with a dead Iraqi in the back seat, eyes wide open, frozen in a silent scream.
I still think of the guy I shot the day before we attacked. If I hadn't done it, he could have been in an EPW camp right now, waiting to go home, just like me. He probably would have surrendered along with most of the others, just one day later.
We should be able to get to the phones in the next day or two. You'll already know if I did when you get this.
They're talking we'll be here like probably three weeks or so, then move into the KFMC itself for 3 weeks or so, and then move from there toward the aircraft. We heard the first guys got home today. 100 from 24th Mech at Ft. Stewart.
I guess I haven't said anything much about what I'd done during the ground war. I started writing to Marianne about it, but it didn't come out right. We didn't do much shooting, though we (my tank) expended more ammo than any of the others in my platoon. We never shot another tank or vehicle, except one suspect tank, that, after the dust from the artillery settled, ended up an already dead heavy truck. We shot up some trenches and bunkers, mostly empty. But you never really know. We ran over some AP mines and unexploded DPICM and cluster bombs here and there, received some incoming artillery off to our flank once, etc. Mine missed an anti-tank mine by about 2 feet on the right side once coming around a dune, and at our speed would have probably gone off under my gunner and I.
It never seemed like a war. More like a field problem. Even when stuff was burning all around you and firing going off all over the place, artillery firing from behind you and landing to your front. It was very real, but more a curiosity than anything else. I just can't describe it.
Like one time 21 was right next to me, and we were on the move. He was on my right, and ran over an AP mine or submunition with his left track. It exploded and sent shit flying past me. I was up out of my hatch, and the first thing that came to mind was can I get to my camera before the smoke clears? I didn't even think to duck. And the L.T. (21) just throws his hands up and smiles, like "Oh well".
The first time I ran over one I thought that 23, to my left had fired his main gun. I didn't realize 'till one of the others ran over one what had happened. Sometimes the stuff blows a hole through the track, etc. Sometimes it doesn't scratch it.
When we were breaching the main Iraqi defense line in the neutral zone, an idiot popped up with an AK from a trench and started firing. Mine was the first to return fire, and he didn't pop back up. Although the muzzle fask was pointing at us, you just don't think of it as someone shooting at you. Just a target and you engage it, like on a range.
Right after I released the mineroller and was linking back up with the platoon, some incoming artillery rounds landed maybe 300-400 yards from us to the left and my only consideration was that it wasn't a very good shot. And the second volley never came, so I just figured that our counter-battery must have had better aim.
Can you understand what I'm saying? I think I would have had to have gotten hit for it to seem different. I guess I've played it so much for the last ten years that it just didn't seem much different than the training. I've had field problems that were tougher. This only lasted for four days. It wasn't even long enough to seem like a war. The waiting and worrying before we did it were worse than doing it.
The only time I was ever really afraid was a couple of weeks before we did it. Then I got over that. After that, the only time I thought much about it was when I would picture that split second as the impact would rip my cupola from the turret and half my body would collapse onto my gunner's back, and the resulting tears back home. But not even that from the time the prep bombardment ended and we rolled forward through the cease fire.
The thing that was hardest for me was knowing how Marianne and you, Ma, were probably taking this back home. The image I've had of you two sitting in front of the T.V. afraid that I'm already dead, can and has choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. Even now as I write this I'm hoping that Marianne isn't still waiting for the "We're sorry" Team to come knock at the door. I wish I could get to a phone to relieve the pain.
You don't know what it's like to hold an M-16 up to a man's back and make him clear out of a trench, and pick up a few pieces of rock hard bread, blue and green with mold, and break pieces off and eat them.
Or realizing you came a few feet from crushing live men that you thought were dead, and only saw at the last moment because they were too afraid to stand up.
It's only been the last couple of days that I've come to realize the horror that has taken place here. It's not a personal feeling of horror, but more an overall picture of horror. And I think it's taken so long because with only the small number of exceptions on our part, it was almost entirely theirs.
I can only imagine what it was like for those who were part of the carnage of which we witnessed the silent aftermath on that highway. It is just so very strange.
I'm just now realizing the significance of all these things I've been through and seen, that were at the time merely curiosities. It's just different now. I don't know if I'm really explaining it or leaving you wondering what the hell I'm trying to get across.
I wish that that night that we were mopping up the remains of that republican guards division that there had been another one behind it, so that there would be less of them left. We have now left the rebels in Iraq with a much harder problem to solve in their struggle. And when we pulled up to Basra, we had to halt for about an hour while a battalion of Rep. Gds. T-72's pulled out of the positions that we sat in for 3 days before we withdrew. They left one behind that they couldn't get started, and I smashed out all the optics and visions blocks with a tanker's bar with delight, knowing how much work and money they'd spent fixing it. We should have torched it after we stripped it, but by that time it was a no-no.
The news said that rebels had come to our lines asking us to join them, and also said they were running short on ammo. Of course we couldn't join them, but I and others would have led them to the vast stock piles in our vicinity if they had come to us.
I think we've made a mistake and not finished this the way it should have been ended. There is now a weakness in my heart for the people of Iraq. I'm still trying to explain what has gone on here. The next time you go to the drive-thru at McDonalds, remember that you haven't been living off rice, onions, and radiator water in your hole in the ground for the last month and a half, hoping you won't be exterminated by a pilot you don't hate, because someone told you if you didn't they would kill you and your family.
The next time you see someone throwing garbage at the White House, know that a helicopter is not going to spray them with nerve gas.
Don't hate the guy that has been busy burning Kuwait hotels and dragging people off, because it's been happening in his hometown for quite a while now, and by now he probably doesn't even realize what he's doing.
It may appear to most of us over here and to you back home that we've done our jobs, but we've screwed up and didn't finish it. He's still alive, and unless somehow the rebels finish what we've started, we may be back.
I guess I'm finally starting to feel I've fought in a war.
This is what I expected it to be like in the first place before I came over here. It just took a while for it to sink in that it really was. I think the easy victory just clouded the undertones until I reflected on it for a while here tonight.
But I still think we did the right thing, although we didn't go far enough. I still like what I do, this hasn't changed that. And I'm not psycologically scarred or maimed for life. If anything, this has just reinforced all I've believed in before I came over here. And I'll be home soon.
P.S. I hope you're saving all my letters. Someday I'd like to go through them with Chris.
Copyright © 2001 by Andrew Carroll
Meet the Author
Andrew Carroll is the editor of three New York Times bestsellers, including Letters of a Nation and War Letters. Visit www.warletters.com.
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I had the opportunity to meet Andrew Carroll in Madison at the Wisconsin State Historical Society. He was introducing the book and was later signing copies in the lobby. One of my father's (Michael Jeffords), letters is in the book and he was a guest of honor at the signing. Andrew was very concious of the sacrifice these people made for their country's beliefs and I think he did an incredible job putting the book together. It gave me an even greater respect for my father and let me get an idea, albeit a limited idea, of what he went through in DaNang in the mid-Sixties.
This book was so sad to read, when you learned they died shortly after writing it. But yet, it was a book that I couldnt drop until I finsihed it.
One of the best books I have ever read..A great way to experience history from a veterans viewpoint. Don't miss this one!!!
I'm a History major at SDSU, so I picked this book up hoping it would reveal something new about all the wars I had been told about throughout my short little life. What a change of pace. It was so interesting. You become attatched to those who wrote the letters and if you found out they died later in the war, it was heart-wrenching, almost as if you knew them. If you're tired of all the "love stories" and "miraculous recoveries" involved in war, read this. It brings you down to earth and helps you appriciate this country
This is an incredible book!! It was a well-rounded example of human experience mixed with history. I found myself mourning the loss of the letter writers and rejoycing when they did make it home safely. Thank you for putting these personal letters together for all of us to read. I would recommend it to anyone.
awesome, heartfelt, informative these are just some words i can use to describe this book. WAR LETTERS was written by Andrew Carroll, it is not his only book about the wars that the U.S. has gone threw. Andrew Carroll graduated from Columbia university with a bachelors in arts and history. this is a nonfiction book because it takes letters written from veterans who at the time were active duty soldiers. Andrew Carroll founded the legacy project in 1998 which was created to preserve the correspondents of our veterans. WAR LETTERS cover multiple wars including the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf war, Somalia, and Bosnia.i believe the theme of the book to make sure we don't forget those who sacrificed so much for me to write this letter and play under those Friday night lights and know i am safe. this book really brings you into the mind of the veterans."when the others came up and almost put their guns against his breast and head it all most made me sick"Charles Bingham said to his wife about witnessing the execution of a deserter. there are many examples like this threw out the book. all in all i loved this book and would recommend it to everyone. now it might not be everyone's cup of tea but i have known that i wanted to serve this country since i was eight so i found it to be a very good read and it gave me a thought to how war might feel and what i am going to want to say to my loved ones threw letters just like these. i really like what Carroll was doing with writing this book, he wanted to make sure we didn't forget what these people have gone threw. whether your cup of tea or not i still recommend reading this book because it is a good read and you never know you might end up liking it even if you are not into war type books.
I picked this fascinating book up while working as an government contractor in Iraq in 2004. I was heartfelt as having served in Desert Storm/Shield. I know I have written letters home to my wife and family which was from my heart and state of mind at that time. I now work with wounded warriors from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; who writes poem as a form of therapy. I encourage them to purchase this book and maybe oneday their letters and poems will be published and remembered. Great read a collectors item!
This is an amazing book. I loved it. I learned more about the history of our nation by reading this book and learning of the PERSONAL history of those involved in war than I ever have before.
Let me start this review by confessing that I am biased. One of my letters from Vietnam is included in the book. I therefore view the book differently from the average reader. I also got an advance copy of the book a week before the official release date, and was able to read it. Andrew Carroll produced this book by reading through almost 50,000 letters and selected roughly 200 that best show what everyday life in the military - and in war - are like from the viewpoint of the average soldier, sailor, marine, and airman. Andy was able to get these letters by persuading Dear Abby to publish an appeal in her column on Veteran¿s Day in 1998. The column urged readers to contribute these letters so that the sacrifices of the writers would not be forgotten. The result was a flood of 50,000 letters ¿ some faded, some muddy, some blood-stained, and one pierced by a bullet. One letter was written on Hitler¿s personal stationary by an American sergeant who worked in Hitler¿s personal quarters in Germany just after WW II. What could be a better symbol of justice? The letter writers¿ views are very different than the views you will get by reading the memoirs of a general or an admiral. When I was in the Army, there was a wonderful comment that explained life in the Infantry: ¿The general gets the glory, The family gets the body, and We get another mission.¿ Your view of the military ¿ and of war - changes depending on your position in this food chain. Overcoming an enemy machine gun is an interesting technical problem when you are circling a firefight in a helicopter at 1,000 feet. You take a very different view of the problem when you are so close to the machine gun that your body pulses from the shock wave of the muzzle blast. These letters were written by soldiers while they were in the military. They are describing events that happened that day, the pervious day, or the previous week. Their memories are very fresh. Their views also are very different from the views that someone might have when writing his memoirs thirty years later. In thirty years the everyday pains, problems, and terrors could very well be forgotten or become humorous. The book groups these letters by war or police action. There are sections for letters from the Civil War, WW I (the war to end wars), WW II, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Somolia/Bosnia/Kosovo. Some things never change. The Civil War letter writers grumble about poor food, tiresome marches, mindless sergeants and incompetent officers. The Vietnam letter writers (myself included) grumbled about the same things. One anguished letter was from an officer in Vietnam who was torn by his need to hide his opposition to the war for fear of demoralizing his men. At the end of the letter is a brief comment explaining that the officer stepped on a mine and died shortly after writing this letter. Welcome to life in the military. Welcome to war. You should read this book if you w
This book was a very good book. The letters were very good and heroic. It showed good courage through the american soldiers and what they did through the civil war and the persian gulf