Letters From The Past

Dad & me day he left for South Pacific

Last week at a memorial service for my aunt, a cousin of mine said she had something for me. She mentioned she had been finally going through boxes of her mother’s mementoes, ones she hadn’t touched for years. I guess family deaths and gatherings are a catalyst for such things going through things from the past. Or maybe it was the recent death of my cousin’s older sister.

Anyway, after the memorial service, my cousin pulled from her purse a rubber-banded packet of letters and a few photos.  “They’re from your dad to my mom…from the time he was in the South Pacific.”

Now my dad was in WWII. He served in the South Pacific campaign as a Seabee, an arm of the navy which did construction for troops in battle. He and others like him served in many “hellhole rocks” as he often referred to them if he would talk about that time at all with us. I discovered her referred to them the same way in those letters home.

Seabees built the barracks, airstrips, docks, makeshift hospitals, the roads. He often told us he wore a toolbelt and carried a weapon at the same time since. His groups followed the Marines’ first assaults on those islands.

I spent a day reading those letters this past week. Glimpses of a future story lurked in them, but they weren’t the reason I read those letters and set aside spring chores.

I wanted to see what my dad wrote about, what he considered important to write home to his sister, what he thought about the world events he was helping to happen.  While reading, I learned a whole new side of my dad, one he didn’t often let us kids see when we were growing up, and since he died very suddenly at age 52, he never really entered that stage of life where one often feels compelled to pass on their history.

It’s been our loss, but these letters gave me glimpses and I intend to scan them and give them to my two sisters and brother so they can view this side of dad.

So what are the glimpses? How much he and his buddies loved and looked forward to the USO shows. He especially mentioned a Bob Hope show in a place where the humidity was horrid, the heat drained all energy, and rain fell all the time. I gained a new appreciation for Bob Hope and understood even more why my father would insist we all watch his specials together as a family whenever they were on TV.

Dad, his parents and me--at North Shore Station 11-25-43

I learned of my father’s great joy in hearing that he was now a father of his first son, even though he didn’t hear about it until Jerry was more than a month old. He mentions he wanted to do a good job so his son would never have to fight in a war, that he wished this truly would be the war to end all wars.

He mentioned my mother and how lucky he felt to have such a wonderful wife and good mother to his two children, his daughter Jo, which is what he called me, and his newborn son. He thanked my aunt, her husband and children who were helping out my mom.

He talked about being so appreciative of the drawings my aunt’s children sent him and how they reminded him so much of home. He talked about missing snow in the winter and cold weather and a climate that didn’t have rainfall almost every day.

He talked about cutting hair with the barbering tools he brought with him. In going through boxes from my son’s home recently, I found those barbering tools; however, I never knew he carried those tools with him through the war.

Dad--free time, South Pacific 1944

In the midst of a horrendous, slogging-in-the-mud fight, island after island, my dad displayed a gentle side, and open side to himself in these letters I didn’t always see when he had to be a father of 6 children and heavily burdened in working two jobs to support his growing family.

These letters are even more precious since we’ve never found any letters he sent my mom though he writes of doing so. This is interesting as my sister said the other day that after going through some of Mom’s things she had every card anyone ever sent her. I believe that. Maybe we will find those letters yet. If not, there may be a story in that.

Explore posts in the same categories: Parents, Uncategorized, World War II, Writing

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8 Comments on “Letters From The Past”

  1. I feel so honored to have read this post, Mary Jo. It made me feel warm and happy and brought a tear to my eye at the same time. You look like him, by the way. 🙂

  2. Deb Says:

    What a precious gift…more precious than diamonds, MJ. Your aunt is a jewel for saving them, and your cousin for passing them on. Thanks so much for sharing them with us, your friends and readers.

  3. Nancy Kaye Says:

    Wonderful blog. I loved the pictures. I think there is a story in there. I sure hope you find the letters your Mom received. It was so nice of your cousin to give you these letters. I’m sure you feel closer to your Dad now.

  4. caseyclifford Says:


    I’m glad my post lightened your heart. Sometimes as I read the letters I realized my dad kept much about himself hidden from me, probably because it didn’t feel to him that was how a dad should be. But with his older sister, well, he could open up.

    Yes, people say I resemble him but then they also see a strong resemblance to my mom. I think I’m a bit of both. 🙂 Can’t wait to see you–less than 2 weeks now!

  5. caseyclifford Says:


    You are so right about the letters being more precious that diamonds. What is amazing to me is that since she’s been dead for so many years, those letters never got thrown away. I’m so glad they remained safe residing in a box.

  6. caseyclifford Says:


    We’re running out of places to look for Mom’s letters as we’ve now cleaned out her cedar chest where she kept so many treasures. I fear they may have been pitched at some time in the past when a box was never opened and sorted through with care.

    That could be part of the story, or coming up with a reason why the letters weren’t kept…

  7. Edie Ramer Says:

    Another heartwarming post. You do this every time!

    My dad was in army in WWII, but they discovered he had a heart problem, so he stayed in the US. I guess we were lucky, though he died when he was 40 and I was 5 years old.

    Good luck on finding the letters.

  8. caseyclifford Says:


    Thanks for the wish of good luck with the letters but my hopes are dwindling. This morning I went through an old address book of Mom’s with lots of letters etc stuck in it. Nothing I was looking for. It’s like a treasure hunt now. 🙂

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