Spouse Calls: Hand-written letters worth the time
November 11, 2007
On Veteran’s Day 1998, Andrew Carroll made an appeal via Abigail Van Buren’s column. While compiling the bestselling “Letters of a Nation,” published in 1997, Carroll said he was drawn to wartime correspondence. His “Dear Abby” request was for veterans and their families to send him letters written during war.
Nine years and 80,000 letters later, Carroll has published three books of wartime correspondence: “War Letters,” “Behind the Lines” and “Grace Under Fire.”
I wondered what a letter enthusiast like Carroll would have to say to today’s military families about staying in touch by mail. What does he think about e-mail, for example?
“I’m very sympathetic to the fact that e-mail is quick and easy and allows families to stay in communication instantly,” Carroll said by phone from his Washington, D.C., office.
“There is some incredibly profound, dramatic, riveting and extraordinary correspondence sent through the internet. Having said that, what I encourage troops and loved ones to do every so often is to sit down and write a letter,” he said.
“The implicit message of every hand-written letter is, ‘You’re worth the time.’”
Their tangible nature is also important.
“These letters are something people are going to hold on to and cherish. There’s nothing like holding the actual paper your loved one handled as well,” he said.
Preserving correspondence is another of Carroll’s passions.
“One thing I’m emphatic about is when you get an e-mail, print it out,” he said.
“I hear people say ‘Our computer crashed, we lost all of them,’ because they forgot to take the time to do it.”
I asked him why he suggests printing e-mails rather than saving them electronically, on a memory stick, for instance.
“What if, in 10 or 15 years, we don’t use memory sticks anymore?” he answered.
“During the Vietnam War, a lot of soldiers did audio tapes, and that was great because their families could hear their voices,” he said. “But over time, most of the tapes have disintegrated.”
“Paper, ironically, is the most durable form of technology we have. … We have letters from the Civil War and the Revolutionary War that are as pristine as the day they were written.”
Others, not so pristine, are equally expressive.
“Some letters from Desert Storm still have a layer of sand. Some letters from the Civil War are splotched with mud and rain, because a young soldier was writing his letter under the shelter of a tree during a storm,” he said.
Carroll’s interest in U.S. troops and their letters is more than historical. The Legacy Project is his ongoing effort to preserve wartime correspondence.
In our conversation, I found Carroll reticent about his contributions but vocal about writing, especially by U.S. troops.
“These young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines may not be thinking about their grandchildren,” he said. “But when they go into the attic, closet or basement and come across these old letters, it’s going to be an extraordinary way for these young people to connect with their grandparents.”
For more information about contributing war letters and e-mails to The Legacy Project and about Carroll’s venues of support for the military, see www.WarLetters.com and www.OperationHomecoming.gov.
Terri Barnes is a military wife, mom and writer. Send comments or questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.