Friday, May 28, 2010

Voice of a soldier's mother on a postcard

I was rummaging in a postcard bin in Fredericksburg, Va., about 15 years ago and came across this postcard. I did that sometimes, finding old images that told us today what people in the past thought was worth photographing and sending through the mail. Paper memories of places they had been.
"Penny postcards" were still just that in the '40s, cheap and perfect for tourists to send home to the friends and family who couldn't get away. But ordinary people were likely to use the postcard, too, because long-distance phone calls were relatively expensive and difficult to make.
Such, I assume, might have been the case for Beula in Houston, Texas, sending this sad wartime news to her friend or relative Merrill Cash in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in February of 1945. World War II was nearing an end, but soldiers were still dying by the thousands.
"Arthur is missing in Germany since Dec. 24th. ...," Beulah writes on the postcard. "There is faint hope of his safety. I know the depth of despair."
We know this card was addressed to Merrill Cash in Chattanooga. But we don't know Beulah's last name or her son Arthur's, or his branch of the military. I've looked at online records of war casualties in Houston in 1945 and there are several Arthurs listed, but no definitive connection. The same is true of Merrill Cash. So my reporter's sources for this small story are minimal.
By late in 1944, the U.S. and its allies had crossed into Germany and were fighting their way toward Berlin. But the Battle of the Bulge was at its height in December of 1944. Though it was fought largely within Belgium, it would have been easy shorthand on the homefront to refer to it generically as "Germany." More than 19,000 Americans died in what amounted to a last stand for Hitler's forces. Arthur could easily have been one of the 19,000. Or he might have died in any of hundreds of skirmishes with German forces on the way to Berlin. Or he might have been in the Air Corps and been shot down. The postcard doesn't tell us.
It does tell us his age. "I won't forget the joy that has been mine - 21 years the mother of that fine boy," Beulah writes. And then she closes with what seems like the saddest and most anticlimactic of postcard benedictions, "Hope all is well with you - Love, Beulah."
Hope all is well with all of you on Memorial Day weekend.


Tracey Broome said...

What a great story! My dad was on the USS Colorado and was on deck when a Japanese aircraft hit them. My dad and one other man were the only survivors on deck. I was googling the Colorado one day and came across a newspaper article with an interview with the other survivor, in the interview he talked about the other man (my dad). I tried to get in touch with him, but could never track him down. I talked to the reporter that wrote the story but he didn't know where the man was. There are so many stories out there from WWII and they will be lost as that generation passes on. Enjoyed the card!

Hollis Engley said...

That's a good story, Trace. You're right, if we don't tell them, the stories disappear. I've got a fair number of stories from my reporting days. Traveled in 1984 to the Philippines with a bunch of Bataan Death March survivors to see where they fought. We're having dinner tonight with a woman whose parents met in one of the internment camps set up for Japanese Americans. History all around us.

Elizabeth Seaver said...

Thanks for the timely reminder this Memorial Day. It is an important story to tell.

John said...

good 1