Deaths due to war send ripples of grief through our communities because each of those sacrifices also makes victims of the families left behind. The parents, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, co-workers. The list goes on.
They are more than romantic stories of great adventure that end in tragedy. They were flesh-and-blood members of our communities with real lives back here at home. They had families to attend to, farms to run, jobs, friends, hobbies they enjoyed. And they gave it all up for us.
Think of the courage it takes to sign on the dotted line to offer your services, your life, to the military. By signing their name, they resigned themselves for the next few years, or a lifetime, to service. Some are looking for a great adventure, some are looking for direction in life, some are carrying on family tradition, and some are simply following their patriotic heart.
These are human stories with very human consequences.
I read a book once, Letters of a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters, by Andrew Carroll. As the title states, it is a collection of letters between American soldiers and their families. I highly recommend it. The letters within are intimate testimonies of love, laughter, fear, loneliness, and historical facts. Stories from the trenches here and overseas, that bring us to the heart of the action and the baring of souls.
I want to share one of those letters from WWI. It begins with a bit of humor, and ends with a plea for a safe return. The author is Kate Gordon, who sent her three sons from their home in New York off to Europe, leaving two daughters, Nora and Betty, at home with Kate and her husband. We do not know to which son Kate addressed this letter, be it Luke, John, or Jimmy.
The letter begins:
“Your father says to tell you that he will give his son to his country, but that he will be darned if he will give all his new suspenders. He says you pinched three pairs from the top drawer of his dresser — he adds that he ‘is on to your curves, young man.’
“Nora says you were very wise to take them, and she would give you all of hers, if she had any! Betty says to tell you that she hears Jack Ellis sails next week. I know just how his mother will feel for those ten days while he is crossing. But she wouldn't have had him stay at home, any more than I would have had you! All the same, she won't have a good night's sleep until she hears he has landed. I keep thinking about what a different world it will be to mothers; when you all come marching home again!
“And when you do come marching home old fellow, bring me back the same boy I gave my country — true, and clean, and gentle, and brave. You must do this for your father and me and Betty and Nora; and most of all for the daughter you will give me one of these days! Dear, I don't know whether you have even met a girl yet, but never mind that. Live for her or if God wills, die for her; but do either with courage, with honor and clean mirth. But I know you will come back to me. Mother.”
Kate's Jimmy, eighteen and the youngest, would be killed in the war. John and Luke would return to the States in 1919, but Luke would die three years later from complications resulting from a mustard gas attack that took place in 1918.