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Love Letters from WWII

Ralph’s love letters to Ina with original red ribbon.

Page one of one of the letters to Ina (click to enlarge and read)

Page two (click to enlarge and read)

Letters from Bud to his wife, or as he calls her, “My Doll”.

Page one of Bud’s letter (I only scanned one page)

I was looking for love letter correspondences that were vintage and affectionate. To my surprise, there wasn’t much out there. But I did manage to find two items for sale (one item had been separated into smaller lots due to the quantity of the letters). Both items were love letter correspondences during World War II.

The first item that I came across is still my favorite. This was a stack of letters that came nicely bundled in faded red ribbon. There are 40+ letters in this bundle, dating from May 24, 1943 to August 6, 1945. What I love about this particular lot of letters is that the young man who wrote the letters, Ralph, was probably around 18 years old and from a small town in West Virginia. His youthfulness is sweet and unspoiled. What I have been gathering from reading the letters thus far (I haven’t yet gone through all of the letters), is that Ralph and Ina may have been high school sweethearts.

When I contacted the eBay seller to get more information about the Ralph and Ina letters and whether or not there were photographs included, the seller told me there weren’t any photos included but that she was selling another item where there were photographs of Ina and Ralph at their wedding. This was exciting news to discover because it fulfills the quintessential fairy tale dream of living “happily ever after”. I immediately placed the bid on the photographs and was willing to pay up to $100 for them. I was the highest bidder until the final countdown. Then with only five seconds remaining, someone outbid me.

But I won the letters.

When I received both lots of letters I was initially disheartened because there were only the letters from the men. Yet as I started to read them, I began to feel strangely transported into the men’s narratives. I no longer felt disheartened, but rather pleased that they were one-sided. The letters began to feel as if they had been written to me.

I started to imagine the world these men were writing from, what they were experiencing, and what they had left behind. They would address previous questions or comments that the women had brought up in prior letters, and I would have to imagine the narratives contained within the women’s letters. And it was easy for me to imagine the women’s roles. They provided the hometown news to both men. They kept their men rooted to the world they had left behind. They gave the men a sense of hope. I constructed a fantasy world in my head where both lovers could inhabit. The process was purely magical, and yet sad.

The seller who had sold the Ralph and Ina letters told me that the letters had been rescued from the trash. As sad as that was to hear, I was not surprised. We, as a culture, discard everything that is seemingly clutter, undervaluing everything that lacks a computer chip. We throw away pieces of our history this way. These letters are intimate treasures between two people who give us a glimpse into their lives during an important time period. These letters keep us connected to our humanity in the midst of destruction. In October alone, Ralph wrote to Ina about four times, and I believe Ina wrote as much, if not more.

No one writes letters anymore—not even love letters, and I find that tragic, and it’s effortless (and immediate) to send an e-mail or a text. Yet we lose something visceral and tangible from it. Remember scented letters from lovers? I do! It’s impossible to send an email drenched in Givenchy.

In our technological world of instant gratification, it’s easy to see where our sense of collective emptiness and dissatisfaction comes from.

It would be very nice to receive a love letter through the mail again. I would revel in touching the envelope and page(s). I would study the penmanship and know, as I would run my fingers across the paper, that the person had their hands all over the same page(s) and that by placing my fingers where their fingers had been, I would somehow feel that much closer to that person.

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