Arts, Culture & Media

Letters from the Western Front

(Tell us about a particular memory of your grandfather). I was a child and he did amazing card tricks. (Now you have this amazing window on his life during WWI, even his decision to sign up for the war and this is all through some pretty amazing hand written letters.) Yes, the letters begin in April of 1917 and he's in college writing home to his parents, begging them to let him go over to Europe. His first letter is in late April, after the U.S. joined the war on April 6th. It's interesting for me to get to know my grandfather as a young man, he was just out of college and this was an adventure. But the letters were also quite vivid. (He was very vivid in what happened from day to day.) Yes, this letter is from spring of 1917. He was in the artillery which means he would go up into towers and observe the enemy's position and then he'd make a phone call and then the battery below would use deadly weapons to the German target. He mentions noise a lot in these letters and he says it's even hard for him to sleep when it's too quiet because he's used to constant noise. (Then comes Armistice Day, exactly 90 years ago today.) Yes, and the numbers are staggering: 20 million dead, it's hard to conceive. You could lose a half million men in one battle in half a day. But this letter is the day after Armistice Day and his mood was a bit melancholy, saying soldiers didn't know much what to do. (Did you get the impression that your grandfather wrote the letters for the ages or for his parents?) I would say both, my father said my grandfather was always a vivid writer and speaker so they were in line with his personality. But he also told my father that he wanted them to understand what war was.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the audio to hear it.)

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