War Letters from World War I & II
"Loose Lips Sink Ships,” a phrase coined from a World War II poster, was a warning to soldiers everywhere. Any correspondence from soldiers was not allowed to make references to location or troop movements. So what was a homesick soldier to write about? How could family members know their loved one was safe if letters were addressed from “Somewhere in France”?
World War I soldier John A. Gersic from Kansas City, Kansas, wrote about his trip overseas. “I was sure glad to get off the ship. I only want to go on the ocean once more and that is to come back home then I never want to see it again.” During his tour Gersic was stationed in England and in France, but that was about as specific as he could be in his letters home. Gersic wrote in a June 6, 1918 letter: “One thing over here … they sure have enough of light. The sun stays up till 9 o’clock at night and comes up about 4 o’clock in the morning. They sure have got enough time to work.” He was impressed by the the number of brick houses where he was stationed. He was cautious not to go into further detail, due to the censoring of mail. “It’s sure hard to write a letter when you can only write what they will let you, so it’s sure hard to think of something, you can’t write of what you see.”
Solders weren’t the only ones who had to be careful about what they wrote. In a telegram to the parents of a Kansas soldier missing after a plane crash, Navy Vice Admiral Randall Jacobs advised, “to prevent possible aid to our enemies please do not divulge the name of his ship or station unless the general circumstances are made public in news stories.”
Some soldiers passed the time by writing about the conditions of the place where they were stationed. “We have moved a few miles to a forward area which is very swampy, hot, and dense jungle,” wrote John A. Martin, in a letter to his uncle, Paul Martin, editor of the Lansing (Michigan) Journal. “Bloodsucking leeches, mosquitos & sweat-flies abound making life miserable.” Others wrote about the day-to-day activities of being a soldier, being careful not to disclose sensitive details.
The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansas War Letters project is an ongoing initiative to collect soldier correspondence from the territorial Kansas period to the present. An inventory of letters in the collection can be found online at kshs.org/ms/warletters. Some letters, like John Martin’s, have been transcribed and can be read online.
- Reflections, Winter 2007
- World War I letters in Kansas Memory
- World War II oral histories in Kansas Memory
Entry: War Letters from World War I & II
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: September 2014
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