The Absolute, Very Best Veteran’s Letter

As a belated Veteran’s Day post, The Center For American War Letters at Chapman University in Orange, California is a manuscript collection of war letters from every American conflict. The Center’s Founding Director is Andrew Carroll, whose goal is preserve a million of these messages. If you have a letter pertaining to any armed conflict, the Center would like to hear from you. Their website is https://www.chapman.edu/research/institutes-and-centers/cawl/index.aspx.

In the collection is a letter Mr. Carroll calls the greatest war letter ever written. It was from a black major serving in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II. A friend from the United States had written that he was envious that the major was experiencing all of this history. Here is the major’s reply:

“You say that you wish you were over here. Although most people think that they are war-conscious. Are they really? So far removed from the far-flung battle fronts. How can they be? You are really war-conscious when you see the airplanes in formation early in the morning, flying to meet their rendezvous, and then see the same formation returning in the evenings, but the number is not the same. Twelve went out, but only nine returned. You wonder, what really did happen, those who went down in flames? Do they die as you see in the movies? I don’t think so. Not with a smile on their lips and a happy gleam in their eyes, but rather painfully, and with the knowledge that ‘This is it.’ You’d have to see the wounded streaming back from the front after a battle, above all, to see the look in men’s eyes. People may think they know what war is like. Their knowledge is facts of the mind. Mine is the war-torn body, scared of soul’s death. When I was in the States, war was far away, unreal. I had read, I had seen pictures, but now I know.”

This letter was shamelessly stolen from an interview of Andrew Chapman by Joshua Johnson on the NPR program 1A on November 11, 2019 (https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510316/1a).

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