I don’t remember seeing it until the day grandma walked over and pushed up on the narrow short board that served as a latch. The cut of the wood was such that the door was hidden against the dingy white plank walls of the pre-depression farmhouse my grandparents had lived in for over 40 years. As soon as she twisted the latch, the door to a cupboard popped open revealing rough, unpainted shelves loaded with grandma’s treasures: dominoes, books, horseshoes, snuff, a jar of change.
“I want to show you something,” she said, as I stared at this unique hiding place. She reached behind a stack of books and pulled out a bundle of letters held together by a narrow, cotton rag, frayed and discolored with time. “These are the letters your daddy sent home from the War.”
I had been asking more and more questions about the man I never knew except from faded photographs and occasional family stories. Perhaps it was because my own body was well-rounded from the growth of the baby within me that I had begun to wonder more about him. I knew that Daddy had served in the Pacific but no one really wanted to talk about it when I was little. By the time I was a teenager, Mama had remarried and my stepdad had filled the void in my life.
“I saved these until you were old enough to read them and then you quit asking about your Daddy,” Grandma said. “I think now is a good time.”
Tears filled grandma’s eyes as we opened the first letter. I was eager to see the words that my Daddy had written. Imagine my confusion when we opened the first letter and many of the words were marked out. Grandma explained that censors read every letter that the soldiers mailed. I’m sure the Sharpie pen was invented for the censors of World War II. Very little of the letter was left unscathed.
The pattern was repeated throughout every letter in the stack. With pencil and paper, Daddy had poured out his heart to his family while dodging bullets and digging foxholes in the Solomon Islands, and some stranger had read every word and blacked out anything that could be detrimental to the war effort.
“It was good to get a letter from home …,” Daddy wrote. “It took awhile to catch up with me as we had relocated to…,” followed by several black lines. One of grandma’s tears splashed onto the letter. There were other water stains that matched the new tear drop. I carefully read every letter, filling in the gaps the best I could.
Letters from the family helped him deal with the horrors of war--the death, the wounded, the continuous wet and mud, even the inability to bathe. He described the sound of bombs and the flame throwers that lit the skies at night. My body trembled.
Letters to him were what “kept him sane in an insane world,” as he put it. He loved hearing news from the farm. The last letter was a different handwriting. It briefly explained that Daddy had this letter in his pocket when they were attacked. This soldier was with Daddy at the end and was forwarding it on to the family.
“Dear Mama,” it started. “We are under heavy attack, and I think of you and daddy often. I wanted to thank you for your prayers. Thank you for teaching me about Jesus. This is no place for the lost. I try to stay upbeat and praise God. I feel His presence every day. I’ll write more the next chance I get. I love you all.”
I rejoiced to have a piece of my Daddy, to hear his words. I had never felt closer to him than I did at that moment, as I caressed the very paper he had held. He died a hero.
Settled in my favorite chair later that night, I picked up my Bible and caressed its pages just as I had caressed the letters written 25 years earlier. I had learned of my Heavenly Father through His written word; now I had a piece of my earthly father in his own hand.
Almost twenty-five years later, my son was fighting his own battles in the fields of Vietnam. I prayed for him constantly. And, I mailed him a letter almost every day, to help keep him sane in an insane world.
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