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When his mother passed away years ago, his family discovered more than 70 letters she had kept written by his father who served in the U.S. Medical Corps during World War II. The letters, many of them still in their original envelopes, were dated from 1943 to 1946.
In this special feature, Chris shares a few of these letters and the powerful stories behind them.
Somewhere in Italy…
They met in South Station, Boston's busy train terminal. Along with a buddy, Mitch caught the eye of A.J. and her sister Elly at the soda fountain. They talked and exchanged phone numbers. When Mitch called a few days later to 10 Bullard Street and asked for Ann, she thought he made a mistake. Surely, he wanted to talk with Elly. Ann always thought Elly was the most beautiful of the three Manning girls. But "no" he explained, he wanted Ann.
His attraction would grow into a crescendo of affection. But in the years to follow, A.J. and Mitch – like so many others – found themselves caught between their affair of the heart and the affairs of the world.
Mitch's letters gave a glimpse into their pre-war affair: "the night we were at the Plaza together"; 'our song' ("You would be so Nice to Come Home To") and the Army-Notre Dame football game. But by the fall of 1943, the affairs of the world had intervened. For the first time in a long time, Mitch missed the Army-Notre Dame game. Instead, Mitch left his hospital bed in Sicily, joined up with his unit "somewhere in Italy" and became part of the Fifth's Army advance up the Italian peninsula.
Nov. 21, 1943
Dearest A.J., Somewhere in Italy
Just caught up with my outfit yesterday. I found seven of your letters waiting for me and your package. Your letters were dated from Sept. 7th to Nov. 8th. Thanks a lot hon. I will try to answer one of your letters each day – so here goes for your Sept 7 letter – first I will take time out to read it again (fifth time). By the way, I am feeling O.K.
I liked the paragraph in which you said how much you missed me. That is the way I want you to feel, but I hope we both don't have to feel that way too long, this mess with end soon. Lets hope and pray it will.
You mentioned the night we were at the Plaza together. What I wouldn't give to be back there with you right now. It was snowing that night but it was a good snow.
Honey send a few snap shots of yourself, if you don't have any have some taken. Have them about the size that would fit inside a cigarette case – that could be carried with me.
I flew over from Sicily – someday soon I hope I will be able to tell you about the trip.
I feel bad about not being able to send you something nice for Xmas. I should find something nice in Italy to send you.
Will close honey until tomorrow.
During the war, A.J. worked for her father, Joseph Manning. He owned a limousine company and hired out drivers and cars for weddings, funerals, and other occasions. Her heart would jump when Mitch's letters arrived at Bullard Street. Years later, she told her kids, "I'd be at work and my mother would say 'there's something here for you, 'V-mail' and I would say to my father, I'll be right back. And I'd rush home."
Mitch's letters often came as V-mail. V-mail (Victory-mail) was the U.S. army's answer to the enormous volume of mail during the war. To save on bulk and weight, they micro-filmed the letters and sent them instead of the original. During the course of the war, more than a billion V-mails – including Mitch's went back and forth overseas.
But there were limits to what he could say. A.J. once told her kids, "He told as much as he could in the V-mail, but he had to be careful. Everything was censored in and out of the country. You had to be very casual in what you were saying." One asked, "They didn't read everything did they?" "Oh you better believe it. They had to when the war was on. He couldn't be too explicit."
In November 1943,"Mitch couldn't tell A.J. his unit - the 54th Medical Battalion- was officially part of the Naples-Foggia Campaign. It began Sept. 9th. Before the war's end, Mitch and the 54th would see action in three more campaigns, the Rome-Arno, the North Apennines, and the Po Valley. By the time Mitch arrived after his bout with malaria in Sicily, ferocious fighting already marked this first campaign. The Fifth Army met stiff German resistance. There would be much more. Hitler poured men and machine into Italy to stop the Allied advance.
Dec. 3, 1943
Dear Anne, Somewhere in Italy
… it is now 7 o'clock and off in the distance the artillery can be heard. They are really laying it on. You get so accustomed to the noise that when it stops you feel a little uneasy…
Well my sweet one I will close until tomorrow.
Along with the artillery came Christmas and thoughts of home.
Dec. 24, 1943
I received your letter containing the snapshots. One of which I cut down to fit my cigarette case, so everytime I have a cigarette I must first take a look at you. As of yet I haven't received the large picture; it may be in the mail tonight (the mail clerk just left – I told him not to come back without a letter from you).
I just finished censoring some of the Company mail and by their letters the men are a little homesick. It is tough to spend Xmas here with artillery in lieu of sleigh bells, but it could be much worse. First we should be thankful to be alive and well, and we are much better off then most of the Italian people whose homes and towns are left in a pile of debris by war.
Honey I am a little homesick and hope and pray that next Xmas I will be home and with you.
Did you receive the package I sent you? I hope you like the gloves.
Well Honey I will close this short note and will write tomorrow.
All my love,
Dec. 25, 1943
I have been thinking about you most of the day. What you are doing etc. I hope your Xmas was a pleasant and happy one.
Today we had a wonderful Xmas dinner. It is unbelievable what can be done in the field a few miles behind the lines. We sat down to a table with a clean white linen tablecloth. The menu consisted of roast turkey, which was delicious, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, peas and carrots, dressing, giblet gravy, white and raisin bread, fresh butter, fresh fruit, oranges, apples, and almond nuts, wonderful cherry and raisin pies, cookies formed in stars, Xmas trees and crosses, coffee and wine. What do you think of that for a menu? Oh yes we had the echo of artillery for music.
On a clear day, which is seldom, the scenery is beautiful. High with capped mountain ranges and deep green fertile valleys. But the weather spoils all its beauty, rain day after day.
Everyone in the company except the guards have gone to bed so I will join the rest and jump into my sleeping bag and dream of Boston or 10 Bullard St.
Goodnight my sweet one,
But Mitch's dreams of 10 Bullard Street and A.J. would have to wait. They both looked forward to 1944 with hope but would soon discover it would be the hardest year of all.
Used with Permission: @ Dearest AJ.