The Christian Broadcasting NetworkBack to CBN.com
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.
"… The war news is wonderful. It should be over soon."
In the spring of 1945, the Fifth Army amassed more than a quarter of a million men for its final push north. It was the beginning of the end. Mitch could feel it.
March 28, 1945
"Your letter was wonderful. Oh! Anne it did so much for me. The men know that they can ask for almost anything on the days that I receive a letter from you. I can tell I have a letter from you before it gets into my hands because the mail clerk has a big smile when he comes up to me.
The war news is wonderful. It should be over soon. It would be a great gift from God if it would end before Easter Sunday.
…I am getting that spring feeling also and long more and more to be with you. Do you ever find me in your dreams? Most every night when I fall off to sleep I live over the times we were together – the things we did – what we said and the many things we should have said … Oh my sweet how I miss you. All my prayers are to get home in one piece to you…"
Throughout the war, Mitch and A.J. sometimes sent each other gifts. One time, Mitch got a bottle of liquor from A.J. Years later, she told her family how she did it. "You'd dig out the inside of the bread and put the bottle in and wrap it up good. You didn’t want them to shake it and know what it was. In the bread, it would be fine."
Mitch loved it.
April 8, 1945
Today was a red letter day for me. I received two letters (wonderful letters) and a package from you. The package contained a wonderful bottle, which is at present being admired by two other officers. I don't know how long it will be before the top will come off. The two officers (Davis & Fish) are pleading with me to open it up. I think I have teased them enough so here goes. It is real good … Just had another drink the second (both of them for you my sweet). Both Davis & Fish say thanks for your thoughtfulness."
But the war was never far away.
… Oh! Anne I am praying for this war to end and to get home to you. The way it looks now Hitler is going to fight until the last German. I can't understand how a few men can have such control over a country when the majority know that they are fighting for a lost cause. Such useless loss of life and limb. The Germans were supposed to be a smart race but … When they picked Hitler, that - - - - (fill in anything as long as it is real bad) is beyond me.
When you receive this letter we should be working real hard. Remember my sweet that I am always thinking of you and that you have all my love.
By April 1945, Mitch and the men of the Fifth Army were working real hard. The final push of the war was underway. The combined might of the U.S. Fifth Army and British Eighth Army broke through the remaining German forces and poured into the Po Valley and up to the foothills of the Alps. Finally, on May 2nd, the war in Italy was officially over. Mitch witnessed the victory and the final defeat of their implacable foe.
May 11, 1945
Darling this is the first opportunity I had to write you since the wonderful defeat and surrender of the German Army. They were really beaten and out maneuvered.
I have so much to tell you that I don't know where to begin. I wish I could take off right now so I could tell it to you in person. My name was in to go home this month, but since the end of hostilities all temporary duty to the U.S. has been canceled …
During this last drive we had many close calls and there were a few night that I will never forget. The Bn. (battalion) was very lucky not one man was lost. The first few days were very rough, but then prisoners started to roll in by the thousands. Oh! It was wonderful to see. We all knew that the end was in store a week before it was announced. When it did come there was very little celebrating. Did the people at home do much in the way of celebrating? Our greatest thrill will be landing in the good old U.S.A. where our loved ones are.
At present we are located in Cortina d'Ampezzo in the Italian Alps. It is very beautiful. I don't think I have ever seen such scenery in all my travels. Oh! How I wish I could enjoy it with you. It may be soon now. The mountains all around are snow capped and the valley and low hills are green-green and just covered with flowers …
My sweet I will close this letter as I have been interrupted so many times. Hoping to one of the lucky ones and home soon to you.
All my love,
After the long Italian campaign, Mitch and the Fifth Army stood as victors but at a great price. By the cease-fire of May 2, the Fifth Army was engaged in continuous combat for more than 600 days, more than any other combat group during the war. They fought through rugged terrain, harsh, bitter weather, and a skillful and determined foe. It was a dogged advance of hundreds of miles. Throughout the war, the Fifth Army suffered more than 100,000 causalities. Who knows how many Mitch's unit were treated.
For his service, Mitch was awarded the Bronze Star. His citation read:
SYLVESTER C. MITCHELL, First Lieutenant, Medical Administrative Corps, United States Army. For meritorious services in support of combat operations from 10 September 1944 to 2 May 1945, in Italy. Operating an ambulance control point, First Lieutenant Mitchell rendered praiseworthy service in the prompt and efficient evacuation of wounded men. Displaying keen foresight and resourcefulness, he made a sound and equitable distribution of causalities among the hospitals, insuring the most effective treatment of critical surgical cases. The initiative and untiring devotion to duty of First Lieutenant Mitchell are exemplary of the finest traditions of the Medical Department of the United States Army."
Years after the war, Mitch took A.J. and his sister Peg to Italy and showed them the places where he served. Peg recalled a story Mitch told during that 1984 visit.
"There was quite a big battle and the Americans were losing … a German plane went over and dropped a bomb and it fell between the unit where your father was and where Tom ("Mitch's brother) was. And each one thought the other's unit got hit and your father took us to that spot where the bomb fell." Peg recalled, "Nobody in Tom's original unit ever came home."
They also visited the American cemetery at Anzio. "It was sad" A.J. would say "hundreds and hundreds of crosses." These were the ones who didn't come home to their sweethearts. Mitch was 27 when he entered the service and 32 when he got out. He gave some of the best years of his life, but he knew others who had given the "last full measure of devotion" would not be coming back. Mitch like millions of other soldiers faced the dangers and witnessed the horrors of war. This generation – called the "greatest" by some - rose to the challenge of their age and defeated the tyranny threatening the world. But Mitch, like many veterans seldom mentioned the war when he came back. There was a family to raise and a country to rebuild.
The war was over but the romance went on. With Tom as his best man and Elly as her bridesmaid, Mitch and A.J. wed on November 17, 1945. Like many other young couples after the war, they lived in various places for a while including the Hotel Edison in Lynn, Mass., for six months. But by the fall of the next year, they settled into their first new home, an apartment right on the border of Lynn and Swampscott, Mass. It looked out over the Atlantic, the same ocean that kept them apart for three long years. But now they could walk its beaches and build the life they had longed for, hoped for, and prayed for. This new life deserved a good start and one last letter.
Nov. 20, 1946
My darling Wife,
I thought it would be proper and nice for me to be the sender of the first letter to you in our new home.
What memories are running thru my mind -- Of the places where I used to be, and how far away you were when writing to you and how close you are now. This being my first letter to you since our marriage seems very strange esp. after leaving you this morning, in fact after just talking to you on the telephone about a chair for our home.
I wish so much for you and me. I hope that God will be good to us and protect and bless our home. I desire your happiness so much.
So my darling I wish you all the best in our new home.
God answered Mitch's prayer. He was good to them. He gave Mitch and A.J. four children and later seven grandchildren. They lived through the Cold War, survived the tumultuous '60s, endured financial setbacks, physical ailments and met the challenges of raising four children in an ever-changing world. Through 53 years of marriage, two constants remained: their unshakable faith in God and the enduring love they shared. It's been years since they've been here. But when their children re-discovered these letters - this long silent heritage come alive, they bore witness to the love that survived between Mitch and his "dearest" A.J.
Used with Permission: @ Dearest AJ.