I’m not sure this blog posted in January, so I wanted to re-post. I think th portions of the letter are quite moving.
The Letter That Inspired Love at War:
I don’t like to think of myself as a writer tied to one genre. I have written two contemporary romances, one mystery (published), and four historical novels. Historical fiction forms the bulk of my work, and family was the inspiration. I didn’t set out to write historical fiction; however, I drank in the tales of heroism and tragedy my extended family related during clan gatherings. My mother and her siblings were young adults during WWII. Three of her brothers served in some branch of the armed services during that tumultuous time. Her brothers Willie and Charlie were Navy and saw action in the Pacific. Willie was married with a son; the war would take a toll on his mental health and his marriage. Charlie, my mother’s youngest brother, left a protected job on the railroad because he wouldn’t stay home while his brothers were at war. He chose to serve rather than remain in a position that would have exempted him from duty. Her brother-in-law Emmet served in the Army Air Corps.
My mother’s brother Russell served in the Army in Europe. Like his brother Willie, he also was married with a wife and child; unlike either of his brothers, he never returned from battle. He left behind a young wife and a daughter who had no memory of her father. His loss hit the family like a blow from a sledgehammer because the war was over in Europe when he died. An explosion in the Bremen claimed his life after the fighting was officially over.
I never knew Russell, but his presence loomed large in our family’s collective memory. His daughter is my godmother, and his beautiful wife remained an integral part of our extended family. I’d always wanted to write a story of WWII, but I didn’t know where to begin. When my mother died, I went through her things and found a letter from Russell to the family. Within days, I started my research. Love at War isn’t a blow- by-blow account of my family in WWII, but the spirits of those young people fill the pages of it. I wanted to recapture what loving someone and losing that person was like, how it felt to charge into the horror of battle, and how it felt to risk your life, knowing each day could be your last.
I’ve included excerpts from Russell’s letter to the family dated May 12, 1945:
Boy, you are receiving a letter from the next to happiest GI in the world. Today was more to me than V E Day because I’ll tell you why! . . .I received mail & what I mean mail, 76 pieces in all. . l (A Letter) from Mr. Adolph. A beautiful letter & I really think he wants me to come back to work for him when this I come home (I almost said when this war is over) well it’s all over now, so I can’t say that. But honestly, I can’t feel like it’s all over, there’s no indication as to when I’m coming home. . .
I wish I could write a longer letter tonight, but I’m tired out & I still have to write to my Miss E so tomorrow night I’ll start answering your letters, but thanks for all of them tonight. . .I love all of you, & here’s hoping that it won’t be long before I see you all.”
Russell died in June of 1945, never returning to his hometown of New Orleans, his wife, daughter or extended family. As I read the letter, I knew I had to tell the story of those people who had loved, lost, and triumphed. Love at War was born.