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Between the Lines: Learning About My Parents Through Their WWII Love Letters

Soldier’s daughter discovers a trove of intimate correspondence

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Sylvia Singman hold one of her husband’s letters from WWII.
Roger Kisby
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It wasn’t until they were in their mid-80s that I truly knew my parents or what they had been through as a young couple during World War II, when he was away serving his country.

Growing up, they were simply my folks, and their life before I existed was nowhere on my radar.

That all changed the day I helped them clean closets. Hidden in a far corner, I found a box of hundreds of letters written by my dad, a young soldier overseas, to my mom, his love back home.

With each sentence I read, I was transported back to their youth.

The letters are on thin, crinkly paper. The envelopes are bordered in red, white and blue stripes. The postmarks start in 1942, before they were married, and end in 1946, as he waits to return. The ink has faded, but the sentiment will live on forever. ​ ​My dad, Calvin Singman, begins every letter with a term of endearment: My dearest. My Sweetheart. Darling.

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He writes about his routine — “I took a shower and shave during the noon hour” — but also his longing for my mother, Sylvia: “Honey, won’t this war ever end? Last night we saw another movie. It Happened Tomorrow with Dick Powell. I remember we saw it together at Ellington Field. Those were the days, sweet.

”​​At first, I found it difficult to picture my father writing these letters. While growing up, I had seen him study blueprints and write equations. I had never seen him write more than “Love, Cal” on a greeting card.​​

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A photo of Sylvia and Calvin Singman surrounded by his love letters from WWII.
Roger Kisby

My father’s wit shines through, such as when he wrote in 1945 on his way to Guam: “Somewhere on the high seas.” He quips about his brother, a sailor: “If Ernie doesn’t get fat on what the navy feeds him, nothing else will do the trick.”​

He talks about daily Army life. “All magazines are overseas editions with absolutely no advertisements. Just like the radio programs. I haven’t heard a commercial since I left the States.” He describes his evenings: “I’m at the club in the 1899th area. Our lights went out. J.S. and I are the only ones here. We are playing the phonograph and writing letters.” ​In another letter, he cautions my mom. “Honey, you don’t know how happy I am that you decided to go back to school. Just don’t flirt with all the young profs.” ​​Even though he was overseas, fighting in the war, his concern for others rings through. “Remember Capt Burke, the dentist. He’s looking for a wife. Maybe Rolly might be interested. The guy has plenty of dough and a damn nice fella.”​​And there are his plans for their future: “What do you think of the revised GI Bill of Rights? Now we can buy a wonderful home — up to $8,000.”​​

As Aug. 14, 1945, approached, he wrote, “V-J Day should come in a day or two. Please don’t drink too much. Wait till I get home and we do it right.”​​

But his return kept getting delayed. “The news doesn’t look too good. I have the misfortune of being the engr. They’ll most likely place me on the critical list and try to hold me here as long as they can. All I want to do is hold you in my arms and keep your feet warm at night.”​ He did come home. And they did it right.

True to his word, my father built a wonderful life with my mother. They bought the Ford he discussed in one letter. As he expressed in another, her periods did stop. Twice. But she kept the “luscious” figure he often mentioned in his letters.

In 68 years of marriage, my parents rarely spent a night apart. After reading these letters, I understand why.

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My father died 10 years ago. My mother, who just turned 98, suffers from dementia and lives with my husband and me.

Showing her the letters brings a smile to her face. She has a longing in her eyes, which I recognize as the look she gave my father throughout the years.

spinner image two women sitting at a table looking at letters
The author and her mother look at her husband’s love letters.
Roger Kisby

“When is Cal coming home from the war?” she asks, almost nightly.

I take her hand and try to bring her to the present. I tell her that my father will visit in her dreams and keep her feet warm, as he promised.

After all, they are from the Greatest Generation. One that was strong, hardworking and dependable.

A generation when love survived much hardship and a promise meant something. 

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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