Letters from Home – Lifelines in a Sea of Loneliness

Mail Call

Anyone from my generation and before who has ever served in the military is aware of how important letters are when you are away from home. They are truly the connection you have to a place where “normal” lives despite the chaos of your current situation. With the internet, my nephews told me that writing letter is kind of out of date. Frankly, with the shorthand that too many have with texting and social media, some of the beauty and elegance of letter writing is probably lost forever. But for my generation, letters were a lifeline in a sea of loneliness.

I learned this firsthand in boot camp whenever letter held a special relief from the day-to-day struggles of becoming a sailor. The love letters from my girlfriend were often stained form the perfume she liberally doused them with. Those always brought a smile and a bit of embarrassment when the Company Commander handed them out.

But letters from Mom and Dad, no matter how inconsequential they may have appeared were the true connection to normality. It was truly a blessing, and the flow of those letters was the lifeblood of my sanity at the time.

Later, when I moved on to other bases and eventually to submarines, the flow of letters would decrease. That decrease was in both directions. I finally lost the ability to write new thoughts and they probably just realized that I was not as needful of the letters that had once supported me.

But you never forget the feeling of getting a letter from home. I found this letter to the editor today in my research of the Washington Times Newspaper. The draft was being increased and millions of young boys were suddenly finding themselves in strange new environments. From basic training to overseas deployments, the need for home cooked letters was recognized once more as a critical part of success.

March 18, 1942

Mail from Home Is Military Asset

Says Army Is Expediting Delivery of Letters to U.S. Troops

To the Editor of The Star: Scarcely a day passes that some girl or woman does not ask me: “What can we do to help with the war?” Every girl or woman can contribute an important factor to the morale of the Army, and there is nothing more Important than keeping up the spirits of the troops, by writing frequent letters to every man away from home.

The only army with which I was ever associated which saw the vital necessity of this was the Japanese army to which I was attached in 1904 and 1905. Much as we dislike the Japanese methods of conducting war, we still can learn a great deal by the study of their efficiency and how they maintain morale among their troops. When I was with Nogi’s army at Port Arthur in 1904, I noticed that the moment a transport docked at Dalny, the base for the Japanese army besieging Port Arthur, the mail was swung over on the dock even before the gangplanks were put down for the troops to disembark. It moved ahead of replacements, munitions, and even medical supplies. I saw mail carriers brought from Japan crawling through shallow trenches dragging sacks of mall behind them and actually delivering letters to the troops to within a hundred yards of the enemy lines and within an hour of an attack. Every soldier knew that if there were a letter for him from home he would get it.

This was largely overlooked by the American army in France during the last war, and there were tens of thousands of sacks of mail lying at the bases though the soldiers often went two and three months without having a letter from home.

It must always be remembered that many of the boys who go overseas are taken from the family circle and arrive in a strange country homesick and lonely. Every girl and woman should realize that the only restraining Influence on them is the constant maintenance of their home ties. I have so often seen soldiers waiting about for the mail and when they hear nothing, they became depressed, drank when they could get liquor, and ran around with girls.

War is the negation of almost every human instinct and it is only too common to hear the soldiers say, “What the hell. I’ll probably be killed anyway. I never hear from home and what does it matter what I do.” Just now, all women want to help and thus they can do by never losing touch with every boy* in uniform. The Secretary of War, who was himself a soldier in France, full well realized this when a few months ago he started the reorganization of the mail service, and as he himself has stated, food and letters from home are the dominant factors in maintaining morale and that accordingly, hereafter, the mail will move on the ration trains for obviously the soldiers must be fed, and equally, they must be kept in touch with their families.

That this organization has now been perfected is manifest from the fact that the last contingent of American troops to reach Ireland found their mall from home already awaiting them and many of them said that they were the first letters they had had for two months.

This writer well knows what it means as on one occasion he went four months without a letter from home and again in France he was once sixty-five days without a letter and then received seventy-two in one mall. To the average boy away from home for the first time this means apathy as to what he does and even indifference as to whether he is killed or not. Every woman and girl should realize this and do their part in winning the war by writing encouraging and affectionate letters to the boys.

Every home can now know that due to the new postal arrangements their loving thoughts reach the soldiers as regularly and as promptly as does their food. Rations are food for the body, but letters are food for the soul. Though not as spectacular as munitions, tanks and airplanes, they are even more vitally important to the happiness of those who are away and fighting willingly for the defense of their country.


So, who was Stanley Washburn?

LAKEWOOD, N.J., Dec. 14– Col. Stanley Washburn of this place, journalist and author, died today of coronary thrombosis in Paul Kimball Hospital. His age was 72. He was a war correspondent or soldier with twenty armies in 100 battles, dating back to the Russo-Japanese War.

You have to really search to find out about the writer. What I did find was fascinating to me and makes me sad that more people do not know either his name or what he achieved. Stanley Washburn was an American war correspondent who authored at least twelve books. His book on General Nogi of the Japanese army in Manchuria and Port Arthur is a classic story of the brutality of war. You can read it for free here:


To just say that he was a war correspondent is really not sufficient. He was an old school journalist that traveled with the Japanese Army during some of their most stunning defeats and ultimate victories over the Russians. Just reading the book on Nogi gave me an incredibly unbiased view on the growth and development of the Japanese army without the blinders of all that was written after they became our hated enemy. The book is 138 pages long and an easy read. But it tells you as much about the author as it does the General. His understanding of the importance of letters comes from a legitimate perspective.

My father’s generation understood the importance of letters

After my Dad passed away, we found a box filled with his letters to his Mom and some from her that had been returned. I wrote a family centered book called “Love Your Son Butch” which captured all of those letters and framed them in the events that were happening around him as the letters were written. My niece Heather told me last night that she was reading the book to her son Isaac and trying to give him a sense of who my Dad really was.  I truly love that young woman with all of the love an Uncle can give. I wonder if Dad knew that his letters would stretch across the generations as much as they have.

Mister Mac

Postscript: March 19, 1942 Washington Times Article on Mail and the Services

Army Doing Utmost to Rush Mail to Men on Foreign Fronts

Stimson Recognizes Value of Home Ties to Keep Up Fighters’ Morale

Secretary of War Stimson declared today the Army is doing its utmost to expedite the sending of mail from home to its soldiers now serving at lonely outposts and on foreign fronts.

A letter from a veteran war correspondent, Stanley Washburn of Lakewood, N. J., appearing in yesterday’s Star, he said, expressed his own views on the importance of mail as a morale factor throughout the Army.

“I read that letter very carefully,’* he commented at a press conference, “and Mr. Washburn pointed out in it the need that soldiers be kept in close contact with families.” The letter also stated, the Secretary pointed out, that the Government is making a particular determination to see to it that soldiers get their mail regularly wherever they may be serving.

Mails Being Expedited.

“That is what we are trying to do and we are doing everything we can to expedite it,” Mr. Stimson said. “I have frequently expressed myself quite vigorously in the past on the importance of soldiers getting mail from home.” As a former soldier in Prance during the World War. Mr. Stimson knows from his personal experiences, he said on former occasions, how important it is with soldiers to know how their families are faring at home. He once related that while being attached to the British Army for a period of a couple of months something radically went wrong with the mail service. “I didn’t receive a single letter from my wife and family at home during that period, but my orderly, a British soldier, by some unaccountable reason was getting letters regularly from a friend in New York,’* he said.

Service Reorganized.

Soon after the start of the war the Army began reorganizing its mail service under Secretary Stimson’s direction. This mail service has steadily improved. Officials said there are many obstacles in the way of expediting mail to the Pacific area as well as to Hawaii, Ireland and other far flung outposts. Ordinarily, mail is sent directly with convoys leaving American ports. But this is naturally subject to delay, it was explained, due to the time it takes for ships to assemble.

Mr. Washburn, who served as a correspondent with 20 armies and saw more than 100 battles, mentioned in his communication to The Star that the last contingent of American troops reaching Ireland found their mail from home awaiting them. So far as possible, it was said, the Army is sending mail on all supply trains in this country and on convoyed ships sent abroad.


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